Monthly Archives: March 2012
But Chris Cocchi isn’t playing video games.
Instead, the West Chester 20-something – who’s worked most recently as a line cook – spends most of his time on Craigslist, hoping to find the career listing that will break the cycle of dead-end jobs and unemployment – and pay well enough for him to move out and maybe go back to school.
“For most opportunities, they want the college degree and five years of experience,” said a frustrated Cocchi. “They only want the cream of the crop.”
But Cocchi’s misery has company – a lot of company.
The number of young adults in their 20s without jobs is the highest since record-keeping began after World War II, and their bleak outlook has barely improved even as the broader U.S. economy has seen a sharp increase in new hiring in recent months. For those like Cocchi, a young male with no college training, the 2010s have hit like a neutron bomb.
“I’ve never seen the world so bad for young people. The only way I can describe it is as a Great Depression,” said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Boston’s Northeastern University, who has studied young-adult unemployment in depth.
The statistics are grim. Only 55 percent of Americans in the 16-to-29 age bracket were working in 2010, down dramatically from 67 percent in 2000, but Sum said that the situation is even worse than those numbers indicate. That’s because millions of young adults are also underemployed, working part-time while looking for a full-time job. Sum calls that “mal-employed,” which means holders of college degrees working low-end jobs.
In recent months, a virtual cottage industry has sprung up diagnosing what’s wrong with America’s 20-somethings. Magazine covers and cable-TV segments portray this first generation to come of age in the 21st century as hopeless slackers, addicted to their Xbox and their Doritos Locos Tacos but unwilling to get married, start a career or move out of mom’s attic.
Studies do confirm that today’s American youth – dubbed recently the “Go-Nowhere Generation” in the New York Times for its lack of mobility – indeed marry later and move into their own place later.
But many 20-somethings here in the Philadelphia region, especially those from the blue-collar middle class, say the delayed start of “real adulthood” wasn’t their idea. Paraphrasing the U.S. president of their childhood, they say: It’s the economy, stupid.
Just ask Elijah Little, 22, of Upper Darby, who left one job to take what he thought was a better one: loading trucks at a warehouse in suburban Phoenixville. Instead, his new bosses called him in after just a month on the job to say he was laid off.
“They said that the economy was slow and they were overloaded, and because I hadn’t completed my 90-day probation I was going to be the first to go,” said Little, who’s been aggressively looking for work since, to no avail. Little, who graduated from a cyberschool after attending Upper Darby High, lives at home where he helps take care of his 80-year-old grandfather. He had started taking classes at Delaware County Community College, but completing an associate degree takes money and time that he doesn’t have right now.
Experts say one reason the recent economy has been so awful for people in their 20s, and especially for young men with less education, is a mismatch of skills.
The jobs that were hammered the hardest after the 2008 economic crisis and that have been the slowest to bounce back have been manufacturing and construction, traditionally the province of men with only a high-school education. The sectors that held up the best, such as education and health care, attract more of the college-educated, and especially women.
Northeastern’s Sum said the formula is quite simple: Jobs are harder to find if you are younger (meaning joblessness is worse for 19-year-olds than 29-year-olds), if you are less educated and if you are male. And the so-called Great Recession greatly accelerated the problem.
That’s because older workers who saw their nest egg suddenly vanish were slow to retire, while middle-aged employees were less likely to take risks and leave their steady job. The end result has been a massive pileup for those clamoring to enter the career ladder on the bottom rung.
And although unemployment is less of a problem for college grads, experts say that your major is more important than it’s ever been. Students who studied computer sciences or anything related to health care usually don’t have a long job search, but a diploma in the humanities or most social sciences might lead to a position waiting tables or loading trucks – for the lucky ones.
Most 20-somethings know a university graduate who is what Sum would describe as “mal-employed” – in jobs that, on average, pay 40 percent less than someone with their education level should make. West Chester’s Cocchi, for example, said one of his best friends is trained in veterinary medicine but has found work only as a dog walker.
Rakeem Burgess, 21, a graduate of Simon Gratz High School in North Philadelphia, worked at McDonald’s for a time but then gambled that he’d be able to find something better. He was wrong.
“I get to an interview, and I get the same runaround – come back next month, and then next month it’s the next month,” said Burgess, who has gone out looking for work almost every day for several months.
Burgess would love to enroll in community college or a trade school, but right now he lacks the money not only for tuition and books but even for commuting to those classes on mass transit.
Catch-22s like that are typical for Philadelphia’s 20-somethings. Cocchi lives and tries to work in Chester County without owning a car – a daunting task in a sprawling exurb where bus or rail service is so sporadic.
And the biggest Catch-22 is this: Although young jobseekers hope their current plight is merely the misfortune of coming of age during the worst downturn since the 1930s, experts say the career hangover could last for years.
One study from the Yale School of Management found that people who graduated during a recession in the 1980s on average made $100,000 less over 20 years than those who entered the workforce in better times. Read the rest of this fine piece by Will Bunch of Philly.com here.
Health-care reform has been a catalyst for bringing finance and human-resources together to analyze potential effects on the organization.
There are uncertainties around reform, such as whether the Supreme Court will uphold the individual mandate and how this fall’s elections will turn out, but they are not unlike many other uncertainties that businesses face, in the view of Randall Abbott, a senior group benefits consultant with Towers Watson.
“Health-care reform is a business risk,” said Abbott, moderating a panel of finance and HR professionals at a recent health-care conference hosted by The Conference Board. “And regardless of whether you believe it will exist in its current form, be modified, or go away altogether, from a prudency standpoint HR, finance, and senior leadership need to be thinking about it from a scenario-planning perspective.”
Panelist Jon Lara, senior director of benefits finance at DirecTV, said the company’s finance organization has nudged HR into long-term thinking, “which dovetails nicely with health-care reform.” With reforms scheduled to take effect over the next five years, finance has talked to HR about creating a five-year business strategy for wellness initiatives designed to get buy-in at the company’s highest levels.
Such buy-in is far more easily achieved where there is an existing, high level of collaboration between finance and HR. “We’ve had so much collaboration, we don’t even think of each other as HR or finance,” Lara said. “We’re a benefits-strategy team, and everyone thinks with both of those sides of their brains.”
Intent on understanding what was driving DirecTV’s health-care costs, the company invested in a data warehouse. The benefits team broke out data by the major health services to understand how much of the overall cost was unit costs, provider costs, doctor costs, and anything else. That was followed by consideration of whether those factors could be influenced or controlled in any way. “We’ve gone through those kinds of discussions so many times now that it’s second nature for HR and finance to walk through the analysis together,” said Lara.
One thing the team realized was that it couldn’t seem to put a dent in employees’ emergency-room visits. The company has many call-center employees and installers who aren’t highly paid, schedule doctor appointments infrequently, and use emergency rooms for nonemergencies. The team realized that an onsite nurse center would pay dividends.
“It’s about demonstrating to senior management that some new spending or redeployment of spending is going to result in a happier, more productive employee without increasing our overall spend,” Lara said.
Another panelist, Scott Beekman, spent 15 years as a tax attorney and corporate director of taxation for a Fortune 500 company. “With that background, I’m a big believer in collaboration between finance and benefits,” said Beekman, now vice president of corporate services at American Financial Group. “We are data-driven in everything we do. We work with the finance people to analyze everything, because if you can’t measure it, it’s hard to manage it. A lot of the plan-design decisions we’ve made have been driven by that.”
For example, the company launched a high-deductible health-savings-account (HSA) plan in 2005 and later added a health-reimbursement-account plan, while retaining a traditional low-deductible plan. During the next few years, 75% of American Financial’s employees moved into the high-deductible plans. Finance and HR jointly analyzed the plans’ bottom-line costs, factored in an expected financial impact of health-care reform, and moved everyone to the HSA plan.
The trick was convincing the people who had been in the low-deductible plan that the HSA plan was actually a wealth-creation vehicle. “Anyone who runs the numbers knows that most plan participants do not have a lot of claims in any particular year,” Beekman said. “So the value of an HSA plan is risk pooling. The beauty of it is that employees also pool their own risks over a number of years. We promote that very much to the employees.”
The company shows employees quarterly how much wealth has been created within the plan. Last year, the first year the HSA plan became the de facto plan, the figure was $5 million, combining what employees and the company contributed. “That’s a lot of money,” said Beekman, especially compared with what’s created in the 401(k) plan. Read the rest of the terrific article by David McCann for CFO.com here.
As professionals pursuing a second career or attempting a change of industry may have noticed, getting hired can itself be full-time work. With thousands of candidates hunting for fewer positions, it therefore bears repeating: As many job hunting guides now note, the smartest career move you can make is investing in yourself.
Enter personal branding – the practice of packaging and presenting yourself as Apple or Nike would consumer products. A necessity in today’s mile-a-minute, increasingly visual world, where first impressions are everything, you either instantly stand out or become hopelessly overlooked. Nowadays, the most important brand you’ll ever represent is yourself. Doubly so in the eyes of increasingly harried, time-strapped employers, whose perceptions it ultimately shapes.
Note that this doesn’t mean pretending to be something you’re not. Rather, it’s about realigning yourself to fit contemporary viewpoints. Want to be perceived as relevant? Let others know by keeping your skill set, experience and online footprint up to date. Following are several personal branding basics worth remembering – use them as a general job hunting guide, and you’ll instantly improve your chances of getting hired.
Get Your Story Straight – Forget the fabled 30-second “elevator pitch…” In today’s hyperkinetic age, you’ve got to summarize yourself in one sentence. Observers tend to group people into easily-sorted mental categories, so keep descriptions brief and individually crafted to suit each audience to avoid typecasting. Likewise, from your personal blog to your resume, collateral messaging should also remain consistent. Getting the cold shoulder? One problem may the language you’re using. Free services like Google Insights for Search and Google AdWords keyword tool‘ (which reveal popular online search terms) can disclose if the world’s actually looking for an “IT manager,” not “systems administrator.”
Control Your Online Presence – With employers increasingly turning online to research job candidates, search engine optimization (SEO) – tailoring web pages to rank high in online search results – is vital. Start by inserting your name into Google and see what it spits out: First-page placements are 24X likelier to influence viewer perception (and top three results drive the most traffic). Create more favorable impressions by securing a website featuring your name or a simple variation (ex. www.johnqpublic.com, www.johnquincypublic.com), then filling it with high-quality professional insights. Pursue similar strategies and placements on popular social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) or ones featuring popular keywords fitting your expertise (“/CollegeProfessor,” “/SecurityExpert,” etc.) as well. You can also use popular blogging platforms like WordPress and TypePad (dozens of sites offer eye-catching plug-and-play designs), and create posts featuring these terms to improve search results, and highlight your unique personality and perspective.
Make Your Voice Heard – Most hesitate to speak up for fear of criticism or ridicule. But with so many competing for so little nowadays, the squeaky wheels get the grease. Personal branding lets you establish yourself as a subject matter expert who brings singular, indispensable services to the table, not just another nameless drone. To this extent, you need to create platforms (websites,blogs, podcasts, self-published books/magazines, online video channels, email newsletters, etc.) that can reach large audiences, and galvanize support and discussion from professional readers/viewers. Once built, content that illustrates your expertise should be provided on a running basis, including research, analysis and opinions. All creations should be readily shareable via social media, helping you become a well-known and trusted online presence.
Participate in the Community – Doing favors for fellow job hunters, responding to reader emails and contributing as an unpaid volunteer to industry organizations may seem financially unproductive. But it helps build relationships, contacts and goodwill, while letting you have a positive impact on the professional community at large. Not only do such activities provide the perfect venue to demonstrate your skills and enthusiasm, and connect with potential mentors or advisers. With as many as eight in ten jobs going unadvertised in 2012, the connections they provide could prove essential to landing a new gig.
Join the Online Social – Numerous vehicles – submitting free bylined articles to trade publications, participating in online insider newsgroups, etc. – exist to become a strong and stable voice in your professional community. But you also have to be accessible as well: People have to know where to reach you, and that you’ll acknowledge their opinion by responding to questions and feedback as well, with conversation a two-way street. Note that the door works both ways, however, which savvy job hunters can also use to their advantage. With more employees launching corporate or personal blogs, sometimes the easiest way to get someone’s ear is simply to reach out directly and impress them through perceptive and intelligent discussion. Source: SCOTT STEINBERG for worklifegoesstrong.com