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    Is it a skills gap or a bias against the long-term unemployed?

    I'd like to call your attention to what is essentially more wood for the fire of the seemingly endless 'Skills gap' debate - a summary of some recent research by two Northeastern University academics, William Dickens and Rand Ghayad, titled 'It's not a skills mismatch: Disaggregate evidence on the US-unemployment-vacancy relationship' posted this past weekend on the Vox site.  

    You should take a few minutes to read the piece from Dickens and Ghayad - it provides an interesting and somewhat alternative method of examining the alleged skills gap problem - the scenario that so many corporations, government agencies, and educational institutions seem to take as truth. Namely that one significant reason (perhaps the most important reason) for persistently high unemployment, even after the official recession was over, is that a fundamental 'skills gap' is preventing organizations from filling many of the millions of current vacancies that exist in the USA.US Beveridge Curve 2004 - 2010

    Dickens and Ghayad analyze the behavior of the so-called 'Beveridge Curve', the relationship between unemployment and job vacancies that is an indicator of the efficiency of the labor market. As you'd expect, the Beveridge Curve suggests that as the vacancy rate increases, the corresponding unemployment rate decreases (in an efficient labor market), as more people find work in an environment of increased opportunity.

    But in the months following the end of the recession, the data points that connect the level of job vacancies and the reported unemployment rate continue to lie outside of the range of expectations suggested by the Beveridge Curve, implying some kind of inefficiency in the labor market. The most common explanation for this discrepancy is the 'skills gap', simply that the nature of work is changing so rapidly, that the skills and experience that employers demand simply can't be met efficiently by what skills and experience that the unemployed job seekers present.

    Dickens and Ghayad take the Beveridge Curve data a bit further however, by examining how the relationship between increased job vacancies correlates to the unemployment rate for multiple stages of unemployment, from the short term, (less than 5 weeks), to the long-term, (more than 26 weeks). The results of this analysis are startling. Essentially the researchers found that only at the longest unemployment durations, does the Beverdige Curve 'jump' or shift.  At the shorter and medium term unemployment periods the data shows consistency with the historical trends, i.e. as job vacancies increase, unemployment rates decrease.

    Said more simply - as the economy continues to recover, and more job vacancies get created, the expected reduction in the unemployment rate implied by the Beveridge Curve has held except for the long-term unemployed cohort, defined as being unemployed for greater than 26 weeks. For this group of unemployed workers, and this group only, job vacancy increases have not resulted in the expected and historical level of unemployment reduction. The authors contend then, that a fundamental 'skills gap' problem can't be the cause of aggregate high unemployment, otherwise we would see this effect across the entire range of unemployment durations, not just the longer term. From the Vox piece:

     It is possible that the long-term unemployed are increasingly made up of workers whose skills are not suited to available jobs. However, if this were the case why wouldn’t we see some outward shift in the short-term relationship as well? Furthermore, the fact that the vacancy-unemployment relationship has shifted in all industries when only the workers who were previously employed in those industries are considered calls the mismatch hypothesis into question as well.

     Another possibility is that the long-term unemployed in this recession may be searching less intensively, either because jobs are much harder to find or because of the availability of unprecedented amounts and durations of unemployment benefits.

    This seems like a more likely explanation, though if a drop in search intensity is due only to difficulty finding jobs it again raises the question of why we wouldn’t see that at shorter durations as well.
    It is interesting and challenging data for sure, but it has some pretty important implications if the author's conclusions are correct. Mainly, that the recovery is passing right by the long-term unemployed. Whether it is job search fatigue and discouragement, or a more troubling employer bias against these people, either way, if this recovery is effectively creating a large and growing class of unemployable (for myriad and hard-to-determine reasons), then even as the total unemployment rate seems to stabilize, the problems we face as a country and an economy will persist.
    What do you think - does this 'skills gap' really only exist, (if at all), once someone has been out of work for quite a long time? 

    Lessons from an Ad Man #1

    Over the holidays I finished off an old book that had been on my 'I really should read that' list for ages - Confessions of an Advertising Man by ad industry legend David Ogilvy. The 'Confessions', first issued in 1963, provide a little bit of a glimpse into the Mad Men world of advertising in the 50s and 60s.

    Ogilvy's book is a little short on the dramatics and indulgence portrayed on Mad Men, but it is long on practical, insightful, and simple advice for running a business, managing people, serving customers, and more.  Since I love to share such nuggets of solid business advice, and I need to create a few more blog 'series' to help keep this little blog updated, this post will be the first in a semi-regular series called 'Lessons from an Ad Man.'

    So with the too long setup out of the way, on to Lesson #1 - this one on what fourteen years of running his ad agency taught Ogilvy what his, as the 'top man' in the organization should consider his primary responsibility:

    After fourteen years of it, I have come to the conclusion that the top man has one principle responsibility: to provide an atmosphere where creative mavericks can do useful work.

    Like much of the insights in 'Confessions', Ogilvy doesn't really knock you out with how incredibly profound or ground-breaking his thinking on management was. But if you pause to consider that he was postulating about this idea of management as an enabler of creative accomplishment back in the early 60s then the observation seems a bit more meaningful.

    Face it, 50 years later it is pretty easy to find any number of management and leadership gurus and though leaders advising the very same thing. Find the best, most creative and talented minds. Carefully construct an atmosphere where they can and will be motivated to work on what drives them. And finally, be brave and smart enough to stay (enough) out of their way.

    A simple recipe for success, no? 

    Ogilvy had it figured out in 1960.  How long do you think it will take the rest of us to catch on?

    Have a great weekend!




    #HRHappyHour LIVE Tonight - 'Happy HR New Year'

    So are you back at it as we start 2013?

    The holidays are over and you are (hopefully) back to work, back to dealing with all the drama, intrigue, and mystery of life in the modern workplace?

    That description sort of makes work seem like a made for Lifetime original movie. Which would probably be more fun I suppose than real work.

    Well my friends, as you start your 2013 HR and Talent journey, you are not alone. The HR Happy Hour Show is back with you as well, with our first live show of 2013, tonight, Thursday January 3rd at 8:00PM ET.

    You can listen to the show live tonight at 8:00PM on the show page here - on the listener line 646-378-1086, or on the widget player below. Also, you can participate on the show backchannel on Twitter - hashtag #HRHappyHour.

    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio


    And, if for some reason you miss the show live, you can always catch the replay on the show page, or on iTunes - just search the podcasts section for 'HR Happy Hour.'

    Joining us to talk the about the upcoming year in HR will be long time friend of the show and HR executive Trish McFarlane.  We will be taking your calls about:

    The biggest HR and Talent Management challenges you see for 2013

    The buzzwords from 2012 that need to go away, and which ones really have legs, (I am looking right at you 'employee engagement').

    What trends in HR and consumer technology might have the biggest impact on the workplace?

    What industry events and conferences do you have on your calendar for 2013?

    How do you plan to keep yourself educated, up to date, and challenged in 2013 - especially if you've been in HR for a long time?

    These questions and more will be answered on the next episode of the HR Happy Hour Show - LIVE tonight at 8:00PM.

    I hope you can join us tonight, else risk a disastrous 2013....


    Happy 2013! Time to let something go

    Happy New Year and many, many thanks for spending a part of your New Year's Day here!

    The new year figures to be another challenging, interesting, and hopefully succesful one for all of us, as we continue to navigate the demanding and always changing waters of the workplace, of talent management, of technology, and the thousand other things that will keep us occupied in 2013.

    These last few days I have been re-running some posts from 2012 that I liked, were popular, or for one reason or another felt to me like they deserved another shot - maybe a newer reader or two missed them the first time and would find them appealing, that kind of thing.

    But there was one more post from 2012 titled 'Carrying Costs', that I did not re-run, probably because I simply overlooked it last week, but that actually sums up almost exactly the kinds of things I've been thinking about heading into a new year.

    The entire piece is here - but I'll save you a moment and re-state the key idea, that the burdens of what we carry with us from the past (professional, personal, doesn't matter), can be a kind of yoke that we can't easily shake, and that our inability to accurately and honestly reflect on our history holds us back to a degree that we often underestimate.

    In 2013, if there is any one idea, theme, or goal I have in mind it's this - to be more honest with myself, to evaluate ideas, practices, technologies, habits, and progress more rationally, and to know what things to keep and what things to let go.

    Have a wonderful, happy, safe, and productive 2013!


    2012 Rewind: The secret of not wishing to be anywhere else

    Note: I am winding down the last, waning days of 2012 by re-running a few posts from this year that either I liked, were (reasonably) popular, or just didn't get a fair shake the first time around.  If that is not your sort of thing, then come back on January 2, 2013 when fresh and tasty content resumes. Thanks for reading in 2012!

    This piece, The secret of not wishing to be anywhere else, ran in June and was, I suppose, a bit of response and reflection on feeling pretty tired and a little sick of all the buzz, chatter, and noise that surrounds work and business sometimes. And for what it is worth, this might be my favorite piece I wrote in 2012.


    The secret of not wishing to be anywhere else

    Whether it's during a long meeting at work, standing on the sidelines of a U-7 soccer match in the cold rain when you know you have about 4,120 other things to do, or making small talk in a big room at an event or trade show, most of us at least once in a while, battle with the sometimes intense desire to be somewhere else, or to be doing something else.

    Part of this, I think, stems from a kind of achievement at all costs, stay one step ahead of the next guy, keep Tweeting and Tumbr'ing and Instgramming, while simultaneously talking, texting, and making sure your SEO and SEM and mobile optimization strategies are all in place and whirring. There's always something else to do, something else that could be done, something that the next guy is doing that maybe threatens or angers or makes you envious. Whatever. Work, building a business, angling for some better opportunities, trying to raise your profile to get on an internet list or get comped to an event - it can be a pretty exhausting grind.ATL

    Of course there is lots to do, maybe more to do than ever before. Certainly the explosion in platforms and applications that require care and feeding are one reason, and I suppose the degradation (for many folks), in the employee-employer contract or said more plainly, the notion that the next day at any job might be your last, as the spectre of one bad quarter or a decision from a large company to jump in to your market conspiring to make any job in any company seem more temporary and fragile than in recent memory.

    So the natural, and I think for the most part correct, response to all this uncertainty, (and also, paradoxically, opportunity), is for professionals to be much more on the hustle, even those with so-called 'real jobs'. There is a lot of chasing going on no doubt, and while the rewards can be really nice for the ones that do it well, and work at the the hardest, certainly all this chasing and hustling and posturing and angling comes with some downside.

    First, the nagging feeling that no matter how much one works, there is someone else out there doing just a little bit more. And that's annoying. Second, it is really, really, easy to forget to say 'No' sometimes, and to remember that less is usually more, (and more interesting). And last, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling no matter where you are and what you're doing, that you've made the wrong, or at least not the best, most bang for your time, SEO-optimized decision and that somewhere else, something fantastic is going on and you're missing it.

    The truth is there probably is something better going on. And you are missing it. And there, wherever there is, is one of your peers/friends/competitors thinking the exact same thing. 

    Have a Great Week!