Source: San Jose Mercury News
Imagine applying for hundreds of jobs for which you're qualified and receiving no responses, contacting everyone you know for referrals until there's no one left to ask, and cobbling together a series of temporary positions to simply survive. Now imagine doing this for six months. How about a year? This is what life is like for long-term unemployed workers.
These individuals are your parents, children and neighbors. They are active members of this community and, until recently, contributed to the local economy. We need to do more to stop the unfair bias against them and reverse a trend that could permanently damage their economic future and ours.
Nationally, the number of long-term unemployed (jobless 27 weeks+) stands at 3.7 million, representing 35.8 percent of unemployed workers. In California, 39.4 percent of the unemployed are long-term unemployed. These workers have been laid off through no fault of their own and face diminishing prospects of finding work. According to a recent Brookings Institution report, just 11 percent of them will ever find steady employment.
Companies need specialized talent to compete globally and are understandably selective in whom they hire. They must have the right combination of skills, knowledge and experience that will position them for the next wave of innovation, and are often challenged to fill these requirements. Yet, it is not uncommon to hear "must have worked in the past six months" from recruiters, sending the message that the unemployed need not apply. By focusing recruitments on those workers who are currently employed, employers are excluding a key source of talent.
NOVA provides job search and retraining services for unemployed workers in Silicon Valley. Even with a thriving, job-producing economy, 81 percent of NOVA's customers are long-term unemployed; 55 percent have been out of work for more than a year. These workers are highly skilled and well educated, with over 40 percent possessing a bachelor's degree or higher, but with the stigma attached to being unemployed, they face severe barriers to employment. While extending temporary unemployment insurance benefits is important (bill passed by the Senate), a permanent solution requires a stronger commitment from the workforce system and from employers.
In this competitive job market, prospective workers must articulate their competencies to employers and demonstrate that their skills are relevant to the demands of the position and this technology-driven economy. They must have an entrepreneurial mindset, soft skills working with teams, and flexibility to adapt to evolving industries. This is important for all workers. Those who are out of work are not looking for a free pass, but rather a level playing field on which to compete with other candidates for the same opportunities.
President Obama recently launched Opportunity for All and has asked employers to remove barriers that prevent qualified long-term unemployed workers from being considered for positions in their companies. By taking the pledge, companies agree to: (1) ensure advertisements for positions don't discourage or discriminate against the unemployed; (2) eliminate screening processes that would disadvantage individuals based solely on their unemployment status; (3) review recruitment practices to encourage all qualified candidates to apply; and 4) share best practices/success stories. Many Silicon Valley companies have signed this pledge, but more are needed.
Our quality of life and economic success are dependent on the full participation of our residents. Unemployed workers must be given a fair chance to prove their worth. It's important for the economy, our community and the value we place on each other and ourselves.
Kris Stadelman is the director of NOVA (www.novaworks.org), a federally chartered workforce investment agency. She wrote this article for this newspaper.