However, this not the case, even in the strongest job markets. In the United States, the long-term unemployed are defined as those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more and are searching for work. In May 2018, when the jobs report numbers were so good that reporters ran out of words to describe it, nearly 1.2 million individuals had been out of work and seeking employment for more than six months. The long-term unemployed made up 19.6 percent of all unemployed Americans and May was the first month that this percentage fell below 20 percent since the Great Recession.
During an economic downturn, the primary cause of long-term unemployment is simple: there are not enough jobs to employ those who want them. With the robust job growth over the last year, the ranks of the long-term unemployed in the U.S. have fallen by one third. During times of economic growth, causes of extended joblessness can often directly be addressed and remedied by employers.
Minding the Resume Gap
Imagine being a qualified job candidate who has been unemployed for nearly a year. After months of disappointment, a job comes along that looks like a perfect match. The candidate is excited to fill out the online job application, but when they reach the job history section, they see: “Please provide the start and end dates for all of your jobs. If there is a gap of more than six months, please provide an explanation.” These types of questions related to job history can be used (or perceived to be used) as a way to disqualify candidates.
The Deloitte Handbook A Guide to Recruiting and Hiring the Long-Term Unemployed recommends removing filters and screening procedures that ask for dates of last or current employment and automatically eliminate unemployed and long-term unemployed applicants. It also recommends confirming that Applicant Tracking Systems do not screen out resumes based on employment status.
Avoid Date Limits on Valuing Experience
A candidate who has been unemployed for an extended period may possess years of valuable experience and required job skills. It is important for employers to consider whether their recruitment process gives undue weight to recent expertise over cumulative experience gained over the lifespan of a career. Recruitment processes should also be checked for any potential bias against older applicants. An OECD study found that incidence of long-term unemployment increases with age throughout many developed economies.
Addressing the Jobs Skills Gap
A lack of in-demand skills can be a cause of long-term unemployment. There are many resources for those with extended joblessness to receive training in marketable skills. Employers can build relationships with these agencies as part of their recruitment program to target the long-term unemployed. In the UK, skills training can be included as a standard benefit offered to the long-term unemployed. In Australia, the government offers programs which include training for young people and others who either have or risk having long periods of unemployment. Job training services are also provided by Canadian provinces and by state and local governments in the United States.
There are numerous local initiatives in which businesses combine with non-profit agencies to provide skills in an effort to fight all levels of unemployment. Employers can work closely with these agencies to source available talent (often at reduced sourcing costs) and even partner with them as part of their community engagement efforts.
Reaching the Hard to Reach Talent
Individuals without strong job seeking skills can have their period of unemployment unnecessarily extended. For example, the process of finding a job 15 years ago was completely different from today. Reaching candidates whose experience and skills may add tremendous value to your organization requires specialized expertise in sourcing that may not be readily available in many human resources departments. Several leading employers have turned to Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) companies to successfully attract and recruit hard to reach talent.
Worth the Effort
For many companies, the incentive to attract the long-term unemployed may be to meet a need to recruit the last pool of available talent in a tight labor market. However, hiring those with extended unemployment can potentially be a valuable tool in retaining talent, which is critical in today’s economy. The Deloitte handbook cites a White House study that found that companies that hire the long-term unemployed experience higher retention rates and greater workforce loyalty. Given the potential for talent attraction and retention, employers who remove barriers for the long-term unemployed may gain an unexpected competitive edge in an increasingly challenging market.