November 27, 2011

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Help Wanted: In Unexpected Twist, Some Skilled Jobs Go Begging.

DENVER—Ferrie Bailey’s job should be easy: hiring workers amid the worst stretch of unemployment since the Depression.

A recruiter for Union Pacific Corp., she has openings to fill, the kind that sometimes seem to have all but vanished: secure, well-paying jobs with good benefits that don’t require a college degree. But they require specialized skills—expertise in short supply even with the unemployment rate at 9%. Which is why on a recent morning the recruiter found herself in a hiring hall here anxiously awaiting the arrival of just two people she had invited to interviews, winnowed from an initial group of nearly five dozen applicants. With minutes to go, the folding chairs sat empty. “I don’t think they’re going to show,” Ms. Bailey said, pacing in the basement room.

Her challenge is a familiar one to recruiters, especially in industries that require workers with trade skills such as welding. Union Pacific struggles to find enough electricians who have worked with diesel engines. Manufacturers in many places can’t find enough machinists. Oil companies must fight for a limited supply of drilling-rig workers.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Custom car-maker David Kirkham emails: “Your WSJ link is (depressingly) more accurate than you may realize. I would hire 5 more guys right now if I could. However, it is virtually impossible to find anyone with skills anymore. The number one skill we are missing as a society is a work ethic. I speak to employers all the time and we all are looking for the same potential employee–someone who is honest, hard working, and who has reasonable intelligence. In other words someone who willing and able to learn new things and admit it when they screw up. Notice education is not on the list.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Brett McSweeney writes: “True. My neighbor runs a Wheel & Tire shop. He calls it an adult child minding centre.”

On the other hand, reader Don Wolff writes:

These employers are shooting themselves in the foot. Disciplined work ethic personnel are out there if they really make the effort to look. They just have to understand the ‘code’ in which to communicate and the somewhat arcane way that institutions work. The ‘code’ is Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) there is an civilianized listing here.

And specific to your posting, some of these seem pertinent.

Every major Army installation runs a Separation Transfer Point in the Adjutant General’s office which knows 6 months in advance who’s coming up on the termination of their contracts. At the small cost of a regular FOIA inquiry they can obtain the name and unit of personnel who have the skills or related skills to which they need to be filled and will soon be available to the market. Another key is focusing on installations that have the larger pool of personnel in the skills they’re looking for to increase their chances of hooking the one they need. That too can be done by FOIA as well. Of course this means the prospective employer needs to do some paperwork or visit the nearest military personnel office. The other services operate similar activities.

One advantage that potential civilian employers have is that the real retention officer in the military is Mom. If she ain’t happy, there’s a good chance that traveling days may be coming to an end. Make her happy and the hiring becomes even easier.

And reader Dennis Coxe emails:

Unfortunately I could not afford to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal so I could not read the entire article, but from what is available to the general public I have to say the situation begs the question, why can’t Union Pacific hire “willing-to-work” unskilled labor and train them? This is an area that I think also contributes to the higher education bubble. As you note there are a lot of positions that do not require a full four-year degree, but business’s do not want to invest the money to hire unskilled people and train them. The usual business argument is that there is no employee loyalty so why should they (the business) invest in training people in a skill if they are just going to quit and go to a better paying job elsewhere?

This is a symptom that runs rampant throughout our society in which many people, businesses, non-profits, and government want something for nothing. If these positions are so important to the Union Pacific then they will hire and train people willing to work and commit themselves to a five- or ten-year contract with the railroad, and not wait until skilled workers get let go elsewhere.

I would guess that it’s hard to train people and not have them poached away by other employers. You can’t really hold someone to a five-year contract — but you can lock someone into 20 years of student-loan payments.

And sorry about the subscription-only link. I subscribe, so sometimes I can’t tell which ones are open. I tried to quote the key bit, anyway.

Reader Mike Steele isn’t buying it: “Crap that they cant find workers? I’ll call BS on that. I can’t find work and nobody’s hiring. I have a Masters in Management Information Systems and a MBA in Project Management. I did 21 years in the US Army, so I’m not a stranger to hard work, and I have flexibility and adaptability that is first rank. Oh and did I mention that I’m adaptable? All these folks that cry and whine to you about no workers are just BS’in I want to work, but can’t get hired!”

Somebody want to give him a job? He’s in Colorado, but will move.

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