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Filling America’s 6 Million Job Vacancies

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In the 1980s, a typical laid-off auto-worker would participate in a months-long job-training program. It would take lots of convincing—reentering the classroom after years on the factory floor can be both daunting and uninspiring—but she’d eventually give in, perhaps taking classes at her local community college where she’d learn, say, the clerical skills necessary to land an administrative job in real estate or insurance. Toward the end of the program, she’d get to brush up on her resume-writing and in-person interviewing skills, too. But when it was time to actually apply for those administrative jobs, she’d find that said jobs didn’t, in fact, exist: The employers in her area weren’t hiring.

As automation begins again to take over repetitive tasks, workers will need to improve their digital skills (typing on a computer or Microsoft Excel, for example) and potentially even prepare for jobs in entirely new fields. It’s incumbent on policymakers to ensure this transition is as seamless—and as casualty-free—as possible. But if the country’s experience in the late 20th century is any indication, federal job-training programs are an all but futile mechanism for shepherding Americans into their local workforces. Those programs historically tended to prepare workers for the wrong jobs, partially because they didn’t have enough up-to-date data on the needs of local economies—what exactly employers were looking for, for example, and when they were hiring.

Federal job-training programs of the future may have more success than did their counterparts of the past, though, thanks in part to new initiatives such as LinkedIn’s Economic Graph, which is available to a select group of researchers and contains data on job-seekers, employers, educators, and skills. In its December monthly Workforce Report, LinkedIn was able to determine which areas of the country have “skills gaps”—scenarios in which employers don’t have enough candidates with relevant skills or, conversely, are contending with a candidate pool that’s oversaturated with qualified applicants. The report also shows which industries are hiring, where they are hiring, and who gets those jobs, among countless other datasets.

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