On Business: The elusive purple squirrel
Ryan Summerlin April 18, 2014
Job seekers who have been unsuccessful in finding work in spite of their painstaking efforts might be surprised to know that employers say they can’t fill job openings. The candidates sought after have a specific skill set, an educational degree in the desired field, and they can check off each and every box on the employer’s wish list. Recruiters call these candidates purple squirrels. Why? Because they’re impossible to find. Do they exist at all or is a skills-gap at the heart of the problem?
A skills-gap is the difference between the required job skills and the aptitude and talent a candidate actually brings to the table. Employers say many applicants lack proper training to perform jobs that have become increasingly high tech. They require additional technical knowledge and know-how to work in the modern environment. Skeptics deny this claim insisting that corporate America has fabricated the skills-gap theory to avoid paying workers a proper wage. They contend that workers are laid off and the vacated positions are reposted but at a sub-standard pay scale with added responsibilities. When the response is a stream of unqualified candidates, they cry skills-gap. It’s a “blame the worker” mentality, skeptics say. But what’s really going on?
Manpower’s 2013 Talent Shortage Survey reports that 39 percent of U.S. employers say they have difficulty filling positions. Skilled trade jobs top the list as the most difficult to fill. Sales representatives, drivers, IT staff, accountants and engineers follow while mechanics, technicians and teachers make the list as well.
Employers can be selective when there is a large applicant pool. The 2008 recession created such a condition but hiring standards tightened up as well. Companies avoid overstaffing to prevent future layoffs and keep a watchful eye on their resources. Those who avoided the chopping block will pick up the slack for the less fortunate. Additionally job seekers are often eliminated from competition at the starting gate. This is mostly because many continue to use a “one size fits all” approach. Karen O’Hara, CEO of a Sacramento based HR consulting firm echoed this sentiment. “Part of the problem is poor job search techniques, such as candidates who blast résumés to dozens of employers without regard to requirements for each job.”
Computerization and advancing technology has rapidly become an integral part of the workplace creating a challenging environment for employers and workers. This fast paced technology boom is likely to continue. As many as 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk of being impacted by computerization in the next decade or two according to a 2013 Oxford University study. Low to middle skilled jobs were initially vulnerable but now a wider range are at risk. The auto manufacturing industry is a prime example where technology has upstaged human workers but it’s not unique. Will there be a need for drivers in the future since cars and trucks can drive themselves? Drones can accomplish innumerable tasks including applications in agriculture, law enforcement as well as search and rescue. The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that 7,500 commercial drones could be flying in national airspace within a few years. Self-checkout kiosks preclude the need for grocery clerks; ATM’s eliminate teller-assisted transactions and online shopping challenges the sales force. Robots have even found there way into the operating room. The da Vinci surgical system can be programmed to perform surgical procedures with amazing precision and with less down time for patients. Will the virtual classroom replace traditional teaching? And by the way, who’s looking at that résumé you uploaded? Most likely it’s a computer.
Training is at the forefront of this discussion. Employers typically committed to training workers hesitate with higher employee turnover and increased belt-tightening. Manpower states that 23 percent of employers are providing additional training and development for existing employees. Community colleges, technical schools and high schools are working to implement and maintain career-technical education to address needs. Grants are targeting partnerships between educational organizations and private employers. But each worker should keep a finger on the pulse of his or her own professional development to stay competitive.
What jobs have a lower risk of being snatched by a robot? Jobs that require face-to-face communication, human interaction and social intelligence. Health care, management, the arts and media occupations and finance are a few. Education is fairly stable as well… at least for now.
Do you want to be that sought after purple squirrel? If so, beef up your adaptability and get ready for change. Complacency could lead to unemployment.
Gloria Sinibaldi is a career professional who has worked in the employment field for more than 20 years. She is a trainer coach and job developer. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.