"It is well-documented that this recovery is atypically slow, but there is a noticeable positive trend," said Jeff Joerres, ManpowerGroup's chairman and chief executive.The latest, not yet seasonally adjusted, official unemployment rate is 4.9%, and workers discouraged but still attached to the labor force are fewer than they were last year. Whether the recovery is despite or because of hope and change will likely be litigated during campaign season. But close to a million people have left the labor force between last year and this, and the dynamics might have been at work four years ago.
The bad news: Unemployment is coming down, but there's no reason to think that any time in the next three years the unemployment rate will be under 6%.
One of the problems ManpowerGroup has found is that although the unemployment rate remains high, there are jobs that go unfilled because of a skills mismatch. Its most-recent annual talent shortage survey of 65,000 employers in 41 countries showed that one-third of employers can't fill "mission-critical" positions.
Equally alarming, said Joerres, is that the same jobs keep topping the hard-to-fill list - skilled trades workers, engineers and sales representatives.
"If you take a salesperson job, for example, and look at the skills needed now vs. the skills needed in the past, there is a huge difference," Joerres said. "A good salesperson needs excellent communication skills, a consultative, problem-solving approach and perseverance in order to fuel revenue growth at a time when margins remain slim. A firm handshake and a good golf game is no longer enough."Yes, there are limits to downsizing, and with a lot of older workers, taking even an etiolated pension might look better than staying on the 24/7 treadmill.
ManpowerGroup said some companies are having a very hard time finding exact matches for jobs they'd like to fill.
"Where employers are unable to find an exact match, they are holding off on hiring because it keeps their expenses down, and meantime they are able to meet the demand they are experiencing by doing more with less and squeezing more productivity out of their existing workers," Joerres said. "The difficulty with that approach is that many workforces have been stretched to the limit, and you end up with disgruntled workers who leave as soon as the economy improves."
Meanwhile, the opportunities for blue-collar aristocrats were apparent back then.
Joerres said positions such as plumbers, welders and electricians are other jobs employers are having a difficult time filling, in part because young people don't see themselves in those types of careers.We did hear a lot from members of the Trump Organization valorizing the building trades in prime-time. Perhaps, though, some information about the pay packets, compared, especially, with paying off those student loans on a bartender's tips, is important. Incentives matter and all that.
"There are some harmful myths that need to be debunked - that skilled trades work is for those people who do not excel academically, that the jobs are dirty and dangerous, etc.," Joerres said. "Employers, trade groups and educators must partner to create a societal mind-set shift that brings honor back to the skilled trades. Similarly, a better job needs to be done of promoting the career and compensation potential of skilled trades work."
Joerres said students and their parents need to know that there are "potentially lucrative alternatives" to traditional four-year university degrees.
"They could earn an excellent living as plumbers with the possibility of owning their own business and having three or four employees working for them within a few years," he said.