Information came out last week that 192,000 jobs had been added to the U.S. economy. Despite this increase, the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.7 percent. This is not surprising, perhaps, when you think about all the new job seekers who have populated the landscape since 2008. Given that there are still more than 10 million people out of work, this is very much an employer’s market, the age of something I have come to call extreme specificity.
What I mean by “extreme specificity” is that if an employer wants five particular attributes, skills and experiences, there are enough people out there looking for a job that they will be able to find candidates who match their criteria. It is perfectly understandable that employers would prefer to hire someone with the traits they want rather than having to train someone. The main goal of business, whether the corner diner or the multinational, is to succeed. This brings me to a segment of the population that is a byproduct of extreme specificity: the thoroughly unemployable. I am one of those people.
After being two years unemployed in South Carolina, I sold just about everything I had and moved to Minneapolis, because in 2010 it was one of the few places that was showing positive growth. For the past three years, I have done OK, finding enough contract positions to keep me employed. This was a time when employers were simply treading water. It was much easier to bring in a temp when the long-term outlook on the economy was foggy. When things actually did begin to look better and companies began bringing on permanent workers, they wanted those specific people who met their desires.
I was working in one office, and my increased efforts and workload demonstrated to the managers that more permanent help was needed. They then hired someone who fit their needs, and I trained the new employee in what I knew about the process. My contract term ended soon thereafter. I don’t blame them for not hiring me — I have no background in business or finance.
Now that the economy is doing better, the temp jobs are more scarce.
Businesses want to bring on the specific people who can grow and expand their companies. They still have an eagle eye out for those who meet their criteria. I am not one of those people.
I have an excellent track record in customer service, but not in a call center. I have handled a multimillion-dollar account for a national sign company, but I have no sales experience. I am a veteran, but my area of operations was in Panama during the late 1980s, the Noriega affair. I have two degrees — an associate’s in mechanical engineering technology and a bachelor’s in English. I am very good with computers but have no real IT training. I have been a drafter and a machine designer. I have decent management experience, but not a great amount of it. I was even, for a brief time, a commercial diver in the Gulf of Mexico as well as being airborne in the Army and a night auditor at two of the busiest hotels in Charleston, S.C. I know what stressful situations are, and I know that I don’t come undone in them.
I am now in my 50s, and I can simply say: I want a job. It doesn’t matter what — anything will do. I am fairly intelligent, capable and learn very quickly. I have applied for positions across the spectrum, from the multinational down to the corner diner. (I am a very good cook and I bake my own bread.) It is the classic case that I am either underqualified or overqualified. I am not lazy. I don’t want anyone to give me anything. I want a job.
When I am out around the city, I am constantly looking for help-wanted signs. Every time I go into a shop or restaurant, I ask if they are hiring or need any help. I spend hours every day searching a dozen different websites for positions I would be a good fit for. This, in itself, is a job.
It just doesn’t pay.
Everyone is an individual — but no one is unique. If I am in this situation, how many of the 10-million-plus other unemployed are in the same boat?
The other bit of employment news that was released last week was that the private sector has recovered all of its jobs since the 2008 recession. So what does that mean for the thoroughly unemployable?
Matthew Rumph lives in Minneapolis.