As I watched the news the past couple of days, the newest hot debate is over extending unemployment benefits. The previous extension has expired, and the politicians – as always – are looking for a “winning” argument to score political points for the next election. It seems like the easiest thing to do for a politician is go around saying that the pursuit of happiness includes a free house, free healthcare, free education, free car, free smartphones, free money to everyone….who wouldn’t be for getting all of those things for free? The problem is, they aren’t free even when a politician labels it that way. The money has to come from somewhere…as with extending unemployment benefits. So the Democrats are saying that they need to extend them again and give the unemployed a safety net (even though it was previously a 99 week safety net), and the Republicans are saying that they aren’t opposed to extending unemployment benefits, but they need to be paid for somehow.
This debate continues throughout the media as well. Analyst come on and say that extending unemployment benefits causes people to be less eager to get back to work. Why not exhaust all of the “free money” that you can get, relax a bit, and then buckle down and get back to work? There’s no doubt that some play the system in this manner. I admit that there may be some reason why some would need 99 weeks to find a job, but I would think those cases should be very rare. People can get a job doing something, or maybe even a second or third job – I’ve worked 3 jobs before in the past. They may not be the jobs that they are accustomed to or want, but when it comes to providing for your family, you take what you can get.
But then today, I heard the debate that said there are approximately 4 million jobs available in the US, so why is unemployment still high? I have a couple of thoughts on that:
- Some people are playing the system and would rather take the “free money” for as long as possible than to go back to work immediately. Now for those who say there’s no way that’s true, please understand that I work in the recruiting industry. I speak with unemployed all of the time. I can’t tell you how many times I have called someone with a job opportunity and was told straight out that they weren’t interested in working right now, but would rather take some time off and enjoy their unemployment. They did, however, offer to call me back after those benefits ran out and see if I had anything for them then.
- The second reason, and really one that not many people have discussed, is that the generational shift in our workforce has also left us with many open positions that Gen Y just aren’t that interested in doing. In 2012, over 10 million skilled labor jobs went unfilled in the US – but unemployment nationally was around 8% during that same time and unemployment for Gen Y at the same time was 11.5%. So we have to ask ourselves “If this then that?”
Jobs are available. Many of them are skilled labor jobs and Gen Y just hasn’t shown much of an interest in take a job that requires them to work long hours, get dirty, get sweaty, or learn a very specialized skill. I don’t know that they are necessarily opposed to it, they likely have never had those opportunities addressed with them before or early enough in their life where they can make it their ambition. Here’s an example of conversations that I have had with unemployed Gen Y when I was recruiting entry level workers for an oilfield company:
Me: What are you doing currently?
Gen Y: I’m looking for a great job, but right now I’m working at a fast food restaurant to get by.
Me: Have you ever considered working in the oilfield?
Gen Y: No. I know it’s a big industry but I don’t know anything about it.
Me: I can get you into an entry level job right now and you don’t need any previous oilfield experience. Now, you would start off making $12-15/hr.
Gen Y: Well, that’s what I make now. Why change?
Me: Well, that’s just your base pay. You get a lot of overtime pay working in the oilfield. Even though you are making $12-15/hr, with your overtime and bonuses and the like, you will end up making around $50,000 – $60,000 your first year. The company also pays for 100% of your healthcare benefits for you and your family. The biggest thing though is that they are going to teach you a trade. You’ll come in entry level and be assigned a more senior team member who will train you and explain to you why they do what they do. You’ll learn all of the tricks of the trade. And if you work hard and will be dedicated for 12-18 months, you’ll have the opportunity to promote into a more senior role. When you get that promotion, your pay will increase to $18-24/hr, again, with a lot of overtime. You’ll get job bonuses, day bonuses, they pay for your meals and lodging when you are on the road, etc. Now you’ll be bringing in $80,000 to $100,000 in just your 2nd or third year. Now let me ask you, where else can you have no experience, take an entry level job, get the training you need and a career path that leads you to $80,000 to $100,000 a year in just a couple of years of hard work and dedication? Want to stay at your fast food restaurant?
Gen Y: No sir. I think I’d like to know more about the job and find out what I need to do to apply.
I’ve found that when a younger worker is informed about the possibilities that are available in a skilled trade role, they are open to it. Not all will be. Some just don’t want to work long hours and get dirty and the things that go along with it, but many would be interested. If that weren’t true, we wouldn’t have a military. They work long hours. They travel and are away from home for periods of time. They get dirty and sweaty. They work in rough conditions.
Those companies who are in the skilled trades have typically done a poor job of promoting themselves at key influential moments in a young person’s life. Waiting until after they have gone to college, or even completed college, is often way too late to make your pitch. By then, they have spent a lot of money majoring in something and they have this vision in their mind of what their career will look like. That vision often doesn’t include the things that I’ve discussed in this piece.
Gen Y also should investigate the opportunities that are available to them, even though it might not match that pretty picture they’ve drawn in their minds. Not everyone works in an office or from home. Not everyone has a flexible schedule that allows them to work at 3:00 in the afternoon, or at 3:00 in the morning, depending on what is most convenient for you that day. Hard work should never be looked down on or mocked…it provides you with a career, income, self satisfaction, and pride in a finished product.