Posts Tagged ‘Unemployment’

Mismatch Between Small Business Hiring Needs and the Unemployed

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012
Too Complicated!

Too Complicated!

National Small Business Week, which just wrapped up this past weekend, is the occasion for everyone and anyone in Washington to proclaim how much they love small businesses, which, after all, created two out of every three new jobs over the past three decades. The Obama Administration’s contribution to National Small Business Week, courtesy of the National Economic Council, is a “Congress To-Do List” presented in the recent report “Moving America’s Small Businesses & Entrepreneurs Forward: Creating an Economy Built to Last”.

I believe the single greatest obstacle to scale and grow businesses is the lack of candidates qualified for employment. As such, I read with great interest the NEC report’s policy recommendations for investing in worker skills and training. Sadly, they are largely a re-tread of two generations of failed federal programs for workforce development.  But a careful analysis of the proposals and existing programs suggests a more effective approach, which I outline in an op-ed piece published today in the Huffington Post.

To its credit, the Administration has correctly framed the issue. The NEC report acknowledges that small businesses are reporting shortages of skilled personnel to fill critical roles even as we continue to experience high unemployment. The President’s proposed solution is an $8 billion Community College to Career Fund. The President appears to believe that lack of funding for job training initiatives at the community college level is an obstacle to creating pathways to employment. The American Graduation Initiative he proposed in 2009, for example, called for $10 billion in funding for community colleges, but received only $2 billion from Congress.

Lack of funding is not the problem. The problem is that the Community College to Career Fund, like its predecessors the Federal Workforce Investment Act (“WIA”) and the Job Training Partnership Act, does not exist to train the workers that the private sector desperately needs.

Consider the WIA tuition grants, administered by the “One-Stop” job centers of the Labor Department in local communities. The grants award up to $4,000 for approved courses at eligible training providers, typically community colleges and other public institutions.  The federal government establishes a performance metric for states to receive federal funding: 75% of those receiving training must secure employment.

No surprise then that the states’ WIA annual reports reveal success in meeting performance metrics. After all, the state workers want to keep the federal funds flowing and with it, their own jobs. But the 75% rate is achieved by establishing barriers to entry that restrict access to training. Only the most determined and skilled can comply with the onerous WIA program requirements, the very people most likely to find jobs anyway. A review of state WIA annual reports of some of the most populous states that beat the 75% metric finds that only 2,000 or so displaced workers in those individual states received training grants. This does not come close to achieving the scale required to lower unemployment.

And I am skeptical that the people who attended workshops, met with facilitators, were counseled by case managers, passed three-hour tests of basic skills, certified job logs, and invested at least two months in completing all of the scheduled tasks required to at least be considered for WIA training grants, obtained employment at our most promising start-ups. The WIA training grants cover courses for “industry-recognized credentials”. The most entrepreneurial firms have disruptive business models and technologies. We have no use for people schooled in the status quo we seek to overturn. I believe that the President’s solution simply throws more money at failed training schemes. In my op-ed piece, I propose a better alternative.

Unemployment Continues to Rise

Thursday, August 19th, 2010
Either One Is Bad

Either One Is Bad

The number of people filing first-time unemployment claims last week rose to 500,000, a level not seen since last November and well above the expectations of most economists. But the true number of unemployed Americans may be much worse than even the grim data of the U.S. Department of Labor indicate. TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which conducts polls for major new media such as Investors’ Business Daily, has expressed skepticism about the official unemployment numbers. In its latest poll, TMI found that 28.6% of households surveyed have at least one member who is out of work, which translates to an unemployment rate of over 22%, well above the official 9.5% unemployment rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tabulates the total unemployment rate at 16.5%.

The largest source of the discrepancies between official and unofficial numbers is likely the number of people who are underemployed with part-time jobs or temporary positions for which they are overqualified. According to the Department of Labor, 8.6 million Americans fall into this category. Indeed, a Pew Research survey found that more than half of workers had suffered a decline in their income. The “discouraged unemployed”, those who have exhausted their allotted unemployment benefits or who have given up working, also contribute to the undercounting. Whichever measure you use to capture the data, the unemployment rate continues to be unacceptable. Had policymakers focused on supporting the traditional engine of job growth, small businesses, rather than the big bailout strategy, we would be in a different place.

Band-Aids Don’t Help

Saturday, July 17th, 2010
The Basic Problem

The Basic Problem

Do a Google search on small business promotion and you will be amazed at the incentives offered by local and state governments. They are partnering with the Kauffman Foundation to offer FastTrac® entrepreneurial training for new ventures and growth ventures. They are sponsoring business plan competitions to offer modest cash awards. They are investing in business incubators to make low-cost start-up space available. Why the sudden enthusiasm for entrepreneurs? Because we have a serious employment crisis in the United States. Our private sector has lost over 10 million jobs since 2007, even before the banking crisis. The average period of unemployment exceeds 35 weeks and many of the unemployed are no longer counted in the ranks, as they drop out of the market altogether when they lose benefits or become completely discouraged. The initiatives offered by state and local governments are too weak to address our root problem: uncertainty around rising taxes (both the magnitude and the timing of anticipated increases), the implementation of healthcare reform and other measures, including lack of access to capital, deter small businesses from hiring. Until the federal government gets serious about consistent, responsible long-term policies for economic growth, band-aids from local governments won’t address the unemployment crisis.