You must be paying attention to the reports regarding the difficulty companies are having in filling job openings. The reports on television, the radio and in newspapers indicate record numbers of available jobs, but employers struggle to fill them. As I thought about this phenomenon, I considered the era in which I was a young adult, the 50s and 60s, and I can assure you that things were quite different back then. Even before the fifties and well into the eighties, people aggressively sought employment. Why were things so different, back in the day?
I do not recall employers desperate for individuals to fill job vacancies when I was searching for employment after high school or even after earning a college degree. During summer breaks while in high school and college there were always opportunities for employment. I vividly recall my days looking for a job after completing college; a time when job opportunities were limited for Blacks due to racial hostilities. However, we made every effort to secure employment despite these limitations. Jobs are much more abundant today.
Keep in mind that there were no internet postings to search as there were no computers during my era, yet we located job opportunities through our social network. You may recall the days when we spent hours going through the Sunday newspapers to review pages with many job advertisements. I can see the caption now; “employment opportunities.”
Some of you traveled to state office buildings to observe the bulletin boards listing job announcements with instructions on how to register for tests. Maybe you recall cases where you or your friends secured a state job on a provisional basis with the understanding that you had to pass a written civil service test before obtaining a permanent appointment. A similar process was used when applying for a federal job. Usually a visit to the Post Office was required to obtain testing information for various jobs. Then there were the days when we relied on employment agencies to locate jobs and eventually we turned to “head hunters” to locate higher level jobs.
You might also remember those days when we applied for everything, private or governmental; regardless of our level of interest. In cases where we managed to secure an interview, we showed up “looking the part” as we wanted to present ourselves in a most acceptable manner. I cannot recall a situation where a friend or colleague showed up for a job interview looking less than presentable. But, today, it is a regular occurrence where job candidates show up for interviews looking less than presentable.
In cases where a job was offered, money was seldom an issue. We accepted the job offered and worked hard to advance or to obtain skills which would enable us to advance. Securing the job was paramount. When the pay offered was inadequate, we accepted the job anyway; our intent was to do our best to move up to a better paying job. Unlike today, once we accepted a job, we showed up regularly. In other words, we were dependable. Back then, job security and longevity were critical to our employment. These factors seem to have been left back in the day.
We might ask, “What factors have caused many jobs to remain unfilled today?” An on-line Internet article dated May 7, 2021, Why Is It So Hard to Find Employees, by Kathryn Underwood, provides some insight. She points out that the answer to this question depends on whom you ask. The common answers, however are as follows: anxiety about COVID-19 exposure, lack of childcare as not all schools are fully open, unemployment benefits which may pay more than some available jobs, lack of skills or certification for the available jobs, some feel that jobs are harder and more risky than before the pandemic. Underwood repeats the words of ZipRecruiter economist Julia Pollak that the pandemic has changed the motivations related to employment. For example, a survey pointed out that over half of job seekers preferred a work-from-home option. From my personal experiences with various companies and organizations, it is obvious that potential employees place a premium on the option of working from home. This preference has significantly impacted their willingness to accept an on-sight job. Back in the day, if you wanted a job, you had to be physically present to perform the desired tasks. With no Internet capability, jobs, even if certain jobs could be performed remotely, the absence of technology made this impossible to do.
The impact that our upbringing had on our willingness to work in the past is worth noting. Our upbringing and changes in expectations are quite different today. The preparation for the world of work from our educational system provided for more confidence in applying for jobs. I readily recall my early days of entry in the work force. My parents emphasized the importance of aggressively seeking a good job; a good job meant decent pay, benefits, stability and the “Black man’s dream,” back then, a pension. My parents counseled me on all job considerations and directed me to jobs that may not have been on my list of desired jobs.
Once one obtained a job, some of the qualities that we do not see today, were forefront in our mind back then. You may recall the focus on such qualities as getting to work on time, dressing appropriately, performing in a cooperative manner, and when severing your employment, submitting a written letter of resignation. Believe me, I am aware of situations today where individuals accept jobs, work one or two days, and never return. This tends to be our younger generation with a different mind-set for the world of work.
The dismal situation for today’s employers, begs the question, “Where do we go from here?” I do not believe that all of the problems with filling jobs can be placed on potential employees. Rather, employers must reexamine their approaches to the work environment. Even with the decline and potential elimination of the pandemic, I encourage employers to pause, in filling job vacancies, during this challenging period. Things are not going to change so employers must change. Employers must come up with creative ways to recruit employees and retain them. This is now 2022; not the environment in which many of us sought employment and worked, back in the day.