The sheer scope of the current number of unemployed in the U.S. is unprecedented. The current national unemployment rate sits at about 13% of the current population; around 21 million people (or 1 in 5 of the working population). We haven’t seen numbers like this since the Great Depression.
As a recruitment leader, tackling the current level of unemployment is a personal mission. I believe we owe it to the clients we represent and the candidates we serve to help them navigate the unprecedented challenge of rehiring and employing over 20 million people. It’s a daunting task but with creativity and focused work, there is a way to get the country back on track and get people back to work.
Up/Reskill the Unemployed Labor Force:
Re-deploying tens of millions of workers into the workforce is going to take some time and projections of an ensuing economic recession make it clear there will be massive unemployment through 2022. Some industries, such as hospitality, retail and restaurants may take longer than non-service based industries to recover. These workers are often chronically under-employed at the best of times. As these industries represent a huge swath of the U.S. workforce, it’s going to become necessary to redirect at least some of this massive labor force into new industries both in the long and short term.
To that end, the U.S. government, employers, and universities should take the initiative to offer free re-skilling and upskilling to this hardest hit segment of workers. In response to COVID-19 Sweden began a national reskilling initiative that has yielded positive results for both addressing the large numbers of laid-off workers due to coronavirus closures and offers a solution to address understaffing in “critical need” areas of the economy (like healthcare and education).
Beginning with a pilot program that retrained a cohort of 30 temporarily laid-off Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) flight attendants with a three-and-a-half day course on assistant nursing, Sweden now has over 300 former SAS employees working in hospitals and nursing homes. Further improvements to the reskilling initiative have retrained another 200 ex-employees of the beleaguered hospitality and restaurant industry, and placed at least 60 new workers into Sweden’s hard-hit school system.
To be successful at such an ambitious project, it was necessary for employers, politicians and universities to work together to develop, deploy and reconfigure the program as necessary. Despite Sweden having the population, size and sociopolitical and economic ecosystem to make such quick action more easily accomplished than the U.S., its leaders crystallized around a singular, higher purpose: to keep people employed and soften the blow of COVID-19 as much as possible.
The United States government, the largest and wealthiest employers in the country and universities similarly need to focus on helping the unemployed through this difficult time. Rapid reskilling will not only solve the immediate problems of understaffing throughout high-need industries, it will also help to address some of the structural issues that keep people chronically underemployed. Offering citizens the opportunity to learn new skills they may not have been exposed to otherwise greatly broadens their earning potential over a lifetime and increases their chance for securing appropriate employment opportunities in the future.
Set Course for Growth Sectors
In addition to reskilling and upskilling, focusing on growth sectors is always sound career advice. Common recruitment and labor wisdom dictates funneling labor into growth markets to keep them moving. The increased demand for talent should dictate how the supply is distributed. Despite the circumstances, several industries have experienced massive growth during this crisis. Pharmaceuticals, healthcare, teleworking, recruitment, technology and technical support currently have some of the highest demand for new workers.
Even without industry experience; transferable skills, a willingness to learn, a solid track record with previous employers and some flexibility make it possible to transition smoothly into an entirely new field. For candidates that have considered switching industries before the pandemic, now is the perfect time to explore that interest. High demand means that employers are willing to train, so jobseekers can lead their searches by looking for roles with similar requirements to prior positions. Furthermore, as these sectors expand their needs will change. New company divisions and focuses, requiring diverse experience and knowledge of other sectors, may make it easier to sell yourself as an aspirational candidate who can help steer the business in the right direction in the future. Knowing how to highlight your talents, and the value you can bring to the organization are the best ways to make the jump from one field to the next.
Education in the Art of Job Hunting
There is a certain art to job hunting. Among the millions currently claiming unemployment benefits, there are likely to be at least a few thousand who may have gone years before reentering the job market. Sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor may all have the marketing budgets to remain top of mind for the general public, but there are thousands of platforms that offer niche, local and regional opportunities that may not even be listed on The Big Three. A quick Google search can show the breadth and scale of the recruitment sector and make it easier to get your resume in front of the right people.
Resumes are another point where people often need help to maximize their appeal to employers. For first time jobseekers (like recent high school and college grads) or those who have been off the market for a long time, an aspirational resume can put you in consideration for the job you want without relevant work experience. The best format includes a summary (that outlines what your skills are and why you would be a good fit), job description (for any extracurricular work) and/or accomplishments and education. As for content specifics, research jobs you’re interested in and note common themes in the postings, then use these commonalities to draft your resume by including some of the terminology in your summary and throughout the resume.
Identifying the jobs you want and replicating common themes in your own resume is solid advice for any level of jobseeker. For those with recent work experience, refining interview skills should be top priority. Asynchronous and synchronous video interviews (one way and two way respectively) are becoming exceptionally popular for obvious reasons. Learning how to navigate these new spaces can mean getting the right equipment, figuring out where your best lighting and sound are and learning how to convince housemates to be quiet. It’s useful to develop a story arc based on your career thus far to familiarize themselves with the salient points you want to emphasize and develop a useful “elevator pitch” for yourself.
The pandemic has rewritten the rules for how we work and live so learning these new rules will be paramount to success. Beyond employment, I really care deeply about the wellbeing and mental health of the unemployed. Work allows people to feed their families, keep roofs over their heads and can literally be the difference between life and death. Beyond that, work provides individuals with a sense of purpose, worth and satisfaction. It can be incredibly rewarding.
The unpredictability of our current landscape means that individuals can be paralyzed by the fear and anxiety that comes with it. Speaking as someone who lives in the US, I know that the few fixes I’ve outlined above will require strong support from national leadership with an agenda focused on its citizens to manage - and ultimately re-employ - such a large portion of the population.
The proactivity of individual people can only do so much; we must come together as a collective to address and mitigate the lasting negative effects that we have yet to even encounter from COVID-19 and the chaotic world of 2020. It’s clear that we must act sooner rather than later to address the concerns and needs of our neediest to guide the entire population through this challenging time.
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