The 'Great Mismatch:' Why aren't companies with record openings connecting with applicants?

·6 min read

Oct. 24—Job postings flood the internet and help wanted signs are everywhere as companies struggle to fill job openings from a labor force with far fewer people than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increased popularity of online job application and resume handling systems known as applicant tracking systems can backfire, he said, because quality candidates might be sorted out of the hiring mix without having a chance to make their case in an interview.

Interviews with 18 local and national career and human resources experts, companies, business leaders and job seekers found continued concern about the economic impact on companies and individuals as jobs go unfilled. Some said the biggest problem is a shortage of qualified applicants. Others say good candidates are ignored or offered inadequate pay, and many people who need jobsstill struggle with access to affordable child care and fear of catching COVID-19 at work.

"I've seen it called the 'Great Mismatch,'" said Howard J. Klein, professor of management and human resources at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business.

He emphasized the need for applicants to tailor their online applications to include key words in the job posting. And employers should craft realistic job descriptions that don't exclude people who might not fit it exactly but would still be a great hire.

"In some cases it's on the applicant: they're not using the right terms to generate a match," Klein said. "In some cases organizations are looking for unicorns, (meaning) a combination of skills and experience that either just don't exist in the labor market or are extremely rare."

A common theme among those interviewed is the need to broaden recruiting and give more people a chance to prove themselves in a job.

Job openings hit record level

A record 11.1 million job openings were reported nationally in July, declining to 10.4 million as COVID-19 resurged in August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Organizations are looking to fill those jobs from a labor force that has 3.2 million fewer people than in February 2020, before the pandemic led to massive layoffs and a recession.

The labor force participation rate, the percentage of civilians 16 and older working or actively looking for work, was 61.6% in September, down 1.7 percentage points from February 2020, according to the BLS.

The cancellation of enhanced federal unemployment benefits in Ohio and about two dozen other states this summer, and the end of the program for everyone else on Sept. 6, did not lead to the flood of applicants businesses had hoped for.

The September jobs report showed employment grew an anemic 194,000 in the U.S.

"Overall, the total economic data suggests there are more openings than workers. Which means that for some companies, shortages are inevitable," Klein said.

Even as employers posted job openings, monthly hiring declined 6.5% in August, and companies laid off or otherwise involuntarily discharged nearly 1.3 million workers nationally, according to the BLS.

Workers also are quitting their jobs, breaking records in August and April for the percentage of employed who voluntarily left jobs. In August nearly 4.3 million workers, 2.9% of employed people, quit jobs, surpassing the 4 million in July and April as part of what some call the Great Resignation.

There were about 265,000 fewer jobs in Ohio in August than existed prior to the pandemic and "one of the places we've seen a lot of jobs destroyed is really at the bottom of the labor market," said Michael Shields, researcher at Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal think tank.

He said waiters and waitresses typically are among the top 10 jobs by employment in Ohio but in 2020 dropped to 13th, according to his analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Job applicant shortages are particularly severe for restaurant, retail and other service industry jobs, Klein said.

"Businesses are struggling to fill those positions because a lot of times those are not the kinds of jobs that people want," Klein said. "The pay is low, the benefits are few, the work has its challenges, schedules are unpredictable, and the pandemic has led a lot of people to reevaluate their priorities and many have concluded that the type of job they were doing before just isn't worth it."

'Hidden' workers

A study released by the Harvard Business School says 27 million "hidden" unemployed or underemployed workers exist in the U.S. who could help employers fill key positions if multiple barriers were removed.

They include caregivers, veterans, retirees, immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities or mental health challenges, disadvantaged populations, relocating spouses, the formerly incarcerated and those without traditional qualifications.

Barriers that keep companies from considering these "hidden" workers for jobs include lack of access to training, particularly in advanced technologies; automated application systems that exclude them; and companies' failure to more broadly target hiring efforts to include them, according to the report.

Kettering Health and Premier Health all use applicant tracking systems but said staff review the applications.

The only applications not reviewed at Premier are when the applicant is clearly not qualified, such as a person without a nursing license applying to be a nurse, said Billie Lucente-Baker, vice president of human resources system support services.

Advice for companies

Companies can expand their hiring pool by advertising where they can reach a more diverse workforce, including websites targeting older or more diverse people, said John Dooney, human resources knowledge adviser at the Society for Human Resource Management.

"Where are the eyeballs of the types of workers you need to reach and where you need to be advertising? Whether that is TikTok stories, ads on websites, and ads at events or locations where those people tend to go," Klein said. "Advertising is all about getting the attention of who you are trying to reach, and once you have their attention: What is your message?"

That message needs to be a compelling pitch that answers "the explicit question of the job seeker, which is, 'why should I come work for you?'" he said.

The experts said companies must consider whether a job requires a degree, or if experience and additional on-the-job training will suffice.

The experts agreed that companies willing to pay for training are going to have an advantage over those that won't, particularly because technology can change a job dramatically in a short time.

Advice for job seekers

For job applicants the No. 1 tip is to network in-person and online. Go to in-person and virtual job fairs and industry networking events, and find someone who works at a company who will share your resume with human resources.

Resumes should be posted on LinkedIn and other social networking sites. Applicants can find job openings on the state's OhioMeansJobs website and job listings websites like Indeed.com. Many companies have websites that allow the job seeker to set up an alert when new jobs are posted.

"Our No. 1 source of candidates is our career site," Lucente-Baker said.

Companies want an explanation about employment gaps, a huge issue after massive jobs losses during the pandemic.

"(Applicants should) show how they've kept busy. How have they stayed engaged in their profession, whether it was networking, volunteering, mentoring, training, learning?" said Sam Lickert, manager of talent acquisition at strategic HR Inc. in Cincinnati. "How have they stayed current on trends and advancements?"

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