The Never-Ending Saga of Hard-to-Fill Jobs

Surprisingly, with all of the layoffs and restructurings that have taken place in the last year or two, the survey of more than 35,000 employers in 36 countries found that 31 percent of employers are having a difficult time finding the right talent. In 2009, that number was 30 percent.

The most difficult jobs to fill in the United States are in the skilled trades, sales reps, nurses and technicians, according to the just-released Manpower Talent Shortage Survey.

Jonas Prising, Manpower president of the Americas, attributes the problem to “a talent mismatch. There are not enough sufficiently skilled people in the right places at the right times.”

Making it worse, he says, is employers “are seeking ever more specific skill sets or a rare combination of skill sets.”

Seems to me that’s all the more reason that employers should ramp up their training and development programs — an issue that Wharton professor Peter Cappelli explored not that long ago in one of his HREOnline™ columns.

In “Difficulties in Finding Qualified Workers“, he writes: “There is no shortage of people with the appropriate education credentials for any jobs I’ve seen. The skills that are in short supply are work-based skills, the kind that are only learned on the job: Experience with these vendors, knowledge of these work practices, an understanding of this industry.”

So why are so few employers willing to train and develop the people they need to implement their business strategies? That’s another difficult question to answer.

Total Rewards with a Twist of Customization

Two studies released Monday at the WorldatWork’s Total Reward 2010 Conference in Dallas, Texas shed light on what employers might want to do differently as they begin to staff up again.

During a session on the conference’s opening day, researchers from Texas A&M University shared the findings of a recent study of accounting students that found the influence of particular rewards and benefits frequently depended on the outcomes being sought (i.e. attraction, motivation or retention). The study, “The Relative Influence of Total Rewards Elements on Attraction, Motivation and Retention,” found that career development was especially important to students pursuing a career in accounting. Meanwhile, work/life benefits and performance recognition were much more important to those who ended up employed at one of the Big Four account firms for several months. (Response rates of the different groups studied over the several year period ranged from 159 to 232.)

Similarly, a study entitled “Beyond Compensation: How Employees Prioritize Total Rewards at Various Life Stages” found that respondents valued different rewards at different stages of their lives, with development significantly more important for employees under 40 and benefits much more important to breadwinners, especially female breadwinners. (The study of 678 adults was conducted by Next Generation Consulting and Dieringer Research Group.)

Most HR leaders aren’t going to be terribly surprised by the studies’ conclusions. Indeed, both seem to be in line with the findings of earlier research projects. But if there continues to be any doubting Thomases out there who still think they can get away with a one-size-fits-all approach to total rewards—and one suspects there are—then perhaps these findings will give them reason to pause and reconsider.

Rebecca Ryan, CEO of Next Generation Consulting, suggested to attendees that employers might be well served by stealing a lesson from Starbucks’ playbook and the way it was able to build its business by customizing coffee and latte drinks—as in “I’ll have a triple decaf Grande Latte with skim”—when it comes to designing their total-reward programs.

Meanwhile, Mercer Senior Partner Steve Gross is scheduled to share the findings of a third survey on Tuesday that found companies continue to invest in their total-reward programs during the economic downturn and modify the elements of “total rewards.”

The study revealed that 50 percent of the 741 responding multinational companies responding consider “work-life initiatives” a staple of total rewards, while four in 10 reported they either enhanced or added wellness programs during the past 12 months.

All three studies were sponsored by WorldatWork. The Total Rewards 2010 Conference runs through this Wednesday and is expected to attract around 1,500 attendees.

Looking the Part

Does one need a competent looking face to land a job as CEO? A story in today’s Wall Street Journal entitled “Is CEO Success Just Skin Deep?” suggests the answer could be “yes.”

The article reports that researchers at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, working with the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that CEOs are perceived to have more competent-looking faces than non-CEOs.

Finance professors John Graham, Campbell Harvey and Manju Puri of the Fuqua School asked 2,000 students to rate the photos of 100 CEOs and non-executives for competence, according to a story on the school’s blog. The photos featured individuals with similar facial features, hairstyles and clothing. What their study, A Corporate Beauty Contest, found was that CEOs are more likely than non-CEOs to be rated as competent looking, though also less likely to be classified as likeable.

But before HR execs get too exciting—figuring they can trim their vetting process down to 15 minutes of simply studying a CEO candidate’s facial characteristics—they need to consider one other finding: There was no evidence that a CEO’s appearance is related in any way to a company’s profitability.

 Oh well, guess we’ll have to just keep vetting as usual.

New Law Advisory from the DOL

Just wanted to make sure everyone saw this recent release from the U.S. Department of Labor about a new disability nondiscrimination law advisory — part of its new elaws Web site, an interactive site developed to help employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities under numerous federal employment laws. Might want to check this stuff out and report back to us with your impressions and feedback! In fact, we’d appreciate it!

Obama’s Choice for the High Court

Elena Kagan— President Obama’s choice for replacing the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens—may not be as controversial a candidate as some previous Supreme Court nominees. But the current Solicitor General should still expect some tough questions when she comes before the Senate Judicial Committee, including maybe a few pertaining to military recruiting on college campuses.

In announcing the nomination earlier today, Obama described Kagan, 50, as someone “respected and admired not just for her intellect and record of achievement, but also for her temperament, her openness to a broad array of viewpoints, her habit—to borrow a phrase from Justice [John Paul] Stevens—of understanding before disagreeing, her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus builder.”

Critics, however, are expected to point to Kagan’s lack of judicial experience as a major concern.

Not much is known about Kagan’s positions on issues in the realm of employment law. But it’s quite likely committee members will bring up her decision as dean of the Harvard Law School to bar military recruiters from using its offices. In an e-mail to students and faculty, she called the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy “discriminatory” and a “profound wrong.” But in the face of losing federal funding because of the school’s violation of the Solomon Amendment—which allows the government to withhold money from universities that bar military recruiters—Kagan reversed her position on the ban.

No doubt proponents and opponents of her nomination will attempt to spin this incident to their own advantage. But while it’s not likely to make any difference in the eventual outcome—most expect the Kagan nomination to eventually be approved, unless something unforeseen happens—it does, at the very least, provide a hint into how she might approach some of the employment-discrimination issues that find their way to the High Court.

Do as Mom Says, Not as She Does

That traditional refrain, certainly from my childhood, could be one of the messages from a recent survey, as three in four working women (74 percent) want their children to pursue a different profession or career path than their own.

The finding — just in time for Mother’s Day — comes from the latest American Workplace Insights survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Adecco Staffing US.

The survey also found that nearly one-third (30 percent) of working moms are the sole breadwinners of their household, but given the choice, half of them (52 percent) would be stay-at-home moms for their kids. (I wouldn’t be surprised to find half of working dads wishing they could stay home with their kids, too.)

And one of the more puzzling findings had to do with perceptions of leadership: More than half of the moms (56 percent) say mothers make the best bosses, yet only four in 10 (42 percent) of the moms would rather have their mom as a boss than their dad.

Wonder what that means?

Hoping for a Second Chance

Two years ago, a variety show was held in Indiana that featured comedians, spoken-word performances and singers described as “every bit as good as the performers on American Idol.” The twist? All of the performers were inmates at the state’s Putnamville Correctional Facility.

The show—The Redemption Project: Inmates Got Talent—was the brainchild of Johnny Collins, a comedian and documentary filmmaker who was interested in helping prisoners discover their inner talents and, in the process, gain the confidence necessary for finding gainful employment upon their release.

“I’m not trying to justify what these guys did to get put in prison, but most of them feel like they’ve been forgotten, that they’ve been discarded, and it stays with them when they get out,” says Collins, who says he was inspired to start the project in part through his interaction with “Big Mike” Mitchell, an ex-convict who’d gone on to forge a successful career as a comedian and comedy producer.

Approximately 100 inmates auditioned for the show, with 15 ultimately selected to perform a series of shows before an audience of inmates and prison employees, says Collins.

“Some of the inmate comedians were so good, I could easily see them having their own shows on Comedy Central,” he says.

The shows were taped as part of a documentary film that Collins is currently seeking a distributor for. He hopes to expand the talent-show concept to other prisons throughout the country, and is in discussion with other state corrections departments about it.

Ultimately, however, he wants the nation’s employers to take notice.

“Let’s face it, in this economy it’s tough to get jobs and it’s really tough when you’ve got a prison record—many ex-cons end up feeling beat down and discouraged and wind up back in prison,” he says. “It’s important for companies to see that they deserve a second chance—if we can recycle paper bags, why can’t we recycle people?”

No End in Sight

Despite some positive signs in the economy, a just released study, No End in Sight: The Agony of Prolonged Unemployment, by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University confirms that the vast majority of those unemployed continue to struggle to find work.

In August 2009, the center conducted a survey of 1,202 men and women who had been unemployed at some point in the previous 12 months. Then, in March 2010, it followed up with 908 of them. Researchers found that just one in five (21 percent) of those looking for jobs in August of last year had found it by March of this year. Fully two-thirds (67 percent) remained unemployed and looking, with the remaining 12 percent having left the labor market.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the youngest of the group had the easiest time finding new work, while the oldest had the least success—leading some respondents to offer comments such as “age discrimination is alive and well” … and older workers are “considered expendable.”

The study also found that many of those who were able to find work had to settle for something less than what they had before, with just over half of them reporting a pay cut from their prior job and about one-quarter saying they took a significant salary hit.

Many predicted jobs would be slow to return. But the Rutgers study suggests that slow might be an understatement. Notwithstanding definite signs of economic improvement,   companies continue to be extremely cautious when it comes to adding to their ranks. Let’s hope, were the center to do a further follow-up with this group later this year, it might have better news to report.

Biometric Brouhaha Boiling On

Sentiments from either side of the proposed biometric national ID card debate are getting more and more heated, as this recent story from the Society for Human Resource Management underscores.

Aside from the politics involved in the idea of including the card in an immigration-reform bill, HR professionals are also “casting a wary eye,” according to the story. The ACLU predicts employers could pay as much as $1.2 billion to issue the cards and workers would have to pay $105 to $139 eachto obtain them. Expanded to the entire U.S. workforce, the program could translate to a cost of $285 billion.

ACLU Legislative Counsel Christopher Calabrese tells SHRM the bureaucracy behind such a program “would involve new government offices across the country, tens of thousands of new federal employees and the construction of huge new information-technology systems.”

Other opponents predict long document-presentation lines, inevitable information errors and bureaucratic red tape. Employers “would have to purchase expensive biometric readers, train HR workers to be immigration agents and endure delays in their workforce,” Calabrese says.

But nothing else could be as fraud-proof and sure to enhance homeland security and reduce the number of illegal immigrants living and working here, card proponents say.

My prediction: This cauldron has a heckuva lot more cooking time ahead.

Get Your Wellness Kicks on Route 66

Hey, yet another wellness initiative — this one from a company called Health Enhancement Systems; and this time, on a highway I traveled as a Southern California kid and miss to this day. Have long been yearning a return for a road trip; never really considered walking it. Wonder, though, as these wellness programs take employees further and further away from their work for longer and longer periods, if some HR leaders aren’t getting just a little more apprehensive about looking into them. Just wondering.