The Long-Term Unemployed: A Road Back

tt-long-term-umemployed-still.jpgResearch shows that employers frequently overlook and sometimes exclude the long-term unemployed from job opportunities. One study found that candidates who had been out of work for eight months received a call back for interviews only about half as often as candidates who had been out of work for only one month, even with an otherwise identical resume.


Another, conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, says a job seeker’s chances of finding a job decrease significantly after six months of unemployment. Yet, another conducted by the Brookings Institution found that after 15 months, the long-term unemployed are more than twice as likely to have left the job market as to have settled into steady, full time work. These studies illustrate the difficulty in maintaining a robust workforce, when so many are shut out from participating in it.

Advancing in the job market without post-secondary education or training is now more difficult than ever before. As such, implementing programs that help people gain the skills they need is a crucial component of strengthening our state’s workforce. As I talk to New Jersey employers, they frequently mention how they are continuously looking to hire hard-working and skilled people. This underscores the importance of getting more individuals trained to fill these in-demand jobs. Not only will this benefit these prospective employees and the companies that employ them, but it would be a boost to the state’s economy.

All across New Jersey there are opportunities in high-paying industries starving for talent to meet the demand. As is the case in other parts of the country, as the evolution of industry has advanced, we have been slow to retool the skills need of our workforce to match that evolution. Those seeking opportunities in the emerging industries will have to be properly trained, and in some cases re-trained, to gain a foothold. That is why it is important to ensure we have a mechanism in place that will make it easier for employers to identify qualified employees to fill that need.

I have tried to address this issue head on with Senate Bill No. 1887. This initiative would direct the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development to design and implement a pilot program to provide certain unemployed and underemployed persons with training in mathematical, literacy or technical skills, on an accelerated schedule to facilitate their entry or re-entry into the workforce. To add a bit of urgency to the process — which would result in a certificate program — persons who qualify under this pilot program must complete the training within 12 months. This would allow participants to immediately elevate themselves in the eyes of potential employers with their newly minted certifications, and it would aid in dispelling the myth that “I can’t find good help.”

In addition to the ability to earn a paycheck, there’s a sense of pride that comes with working hard to earn a new skill, and then being able to use that skill to better your and your family’s station in life. It is a fundamental precept and tangible outgrowth inherent in the notion that hard works pays off. Succeeding in today’s workforce means having the skills to respond to employers’ needs. Unfortunately, many job seekers struggle to gain those skills that will make them more marketable. By providing our residents with an avenue to pursue better opportunities, the state can help improve the quality of life for thousands of workers and their families.

There is a refrain from many business owners that they can’t find and retain “good people.” There is an implicit suggestion that “they” are not out there. That’s not quite right. They are out there, what is lacking among some is the element of gaining the skill set that employers need. I suspect while we might have a laundry list of training that employers seek, the reality rests on just a few specific skills that allow would-be employees to climb to the top of the list. For them, the key is rounding out a resume with added training or new training that makes them more employable.

I say this frequently: This is not a handout. Rather, the group my proposal targets has already shown that they are exceptional because they have demonstrated initiative by obtaining additional training. Now it’s time to put them to work and for employers to finally find those “good workers” for which they yearn.

That’s my take, what’s yours?


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