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Review: Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs

good peopleThis review first ran in the Feb. 25 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

My Feb. 25 hour 2 interview with Bill Kelly on CHML 900 about this book is posted here

Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It

By Peter Cappelli

Wharton Digital Press

$14.99

So why is good help so hard to find?

We’ve all heard this story before. A company needs to hire because business is booming, Boomers are retiring or someone’s moved on. The job posting goes out and the flood of resumés come in. But there isn’t a single applicant who fits the bill. No one has the requisite skills, the job goes unfilled and the search continues, both for the company that urgently needs to hire and the freshly minted grads, the under- and unemployed who desperately want to get hired.

According to conventional wisdom, an ever-widening skills gap is to blame. Companies complain that schools fail to deliver the right training and allow students to graduate unskilled. The government takes heat for not welcoming enough skilled immigrants and foreign-trained professionals and job candidates are blasted for having unrealistic expectations when it comes to pay, perks and benefits.

Peter Cappelli doesn’t buy it. The Wharton School professor and author of Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs says when he looks at the facts, there’s no solid evidence to support claims of a skills gap. While there’s a definite disconnect between workers and jobs, blaming the victim misses the mark and only makes matters worse, warns Cappelli.

“The real culprits are the employers themselves,” Cappelli wrote in a Wall Street Journal article that spawned his book. “With an abundance of workers to choose from, employers are demanding more of job candidates than ever before. They want prospective workers to be able to fill a role right away, without any training or ramp-up time. To get a job, you have to have that job already. It’s a Catch-22 situation for workers — and it’s hurting companies and the economy.”

Cappelli says some jobs are going unfilled because there’s actually a surplus, rather than a shortage, of talent. “Employers may take longer to fill vacancies not because no one fits their requirements but precisely because there are so many qualified applicants and because they differ so much. In this case, it might pay off for employers to wait for someone who is perfect for the job, not merely qualified, or even to see who will do the job at a wage well below market rate.”

As for the complaint that jobs go unfilled because candidates balk at the wages offered, Cappelli says employers may need a refresher in how markets work. “There is a difference between saying we can’t find anyone to hire and saying we can’t or don’t want to pay the wages needed to hire. Not being able or willing to pay the market price for talent does not constitute a shortage.”

Mechanical Devices is one of the companies that has been a poster child in ongoing media coverage about growing skill shortages. The U.S.-based parts supply company had 40 machinist jobs that it couldn’t fill and those vacancies were holding sales back by an estimated 20 per cent. The 40 jobs reportedly paid $13 an hour. Yet Cappelli points out the industry average for machinists was $19 per hour. “Would that have some effect on the company’s ability to find candidates? You bet.”

Cappelli also calls out hiring processes, especially at companies using cost-saving, HR-shrinking and applicant-crunching tracking and screening software programs. The problems begin with the unrealistic expectations of hiring managers who are, as the founder of a staffing company puts it, looking for unicorns.

“Managers pile all the credentials and expertise into the job description to minimize the risk that the candidate will fail, making it virtually impossible to find anyone who fits,” says Cappelli.

Once it’s baked into the software, every requirement, no matter how critical or trivial, becomes a hurdle that applicants must clear to get an interview. Not surprisingly, few candidates survive the process, regardless of their experience and ability to do the job.

Cappelli concludes his book by saying what we’re really facing is a training gap. “Despite all the concern about the supposed inadequate skill level of job seekers, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the sagging investment in employee training among those companies apparently desperate for skills.

“A huge part of the so-called skills gap actually springs from the weak employer efforts to promote internal training for either current employees or future hires.”

In-house, employer and employee-shared training programs and traditional apprenticeships would go a long way to filling vacant jobs and putting people to work, says Cappelli. Mechanical Devices set up a 10-week training program to create its own machinists. Out of the first group of 24 trainees, 16 graduated and moved into the vacant jobs.

Cappelli also recommends more co-op programs, internships and closer collaboration between schools and employers. “Students learn academic material more easily when they see practical uses for it; employers and students alike benefit from having contact with one another and in the end, employers see graduates who are better prepared for jobs. To expect schools and students to guess what skills your company will need in the future is plain and simply bad business.”

In challenging conventional wisdom, Cappelli has written a book that will save employers from searching for unicorns and make good help far easier to find and hire.

Review: Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator

trust meThis review first ran in the Feb. 11 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

My Feb. 11 hour 3 interview (35 min mark) with Bill Kelly on CHML 900 is posted here.

Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator

Ryan Holiday

Portfolio / Penguin

$28.95

Welcome to Diatribe Partners, Hamilton’s premier consulting shop specializing in social media smackdowns.

Got a local politician, member of the Fifth Estate, business or community leader who doesn’t share your view of the world? We’re here to help.

We custom-build campaigns to shame, silence and grind your enemies into submission. At Diatribe Partners, we don’t cast aspersions. We destroy reputations. Dissatisfaction guaranteed.

A winning combination of snark and self-righteous indignation will fire up and unleash the fury of real and fake Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

We’ll enlist the help of local hit-happy and traffic-hungry social media power users to recycle a steady diet of mis- and disinformation.

Together, we’ll blindside and bury your enemy with a barrage of well-timed tweets and posts crafted to be as viral as they are toxic.

We’ll bait your besieged and frustrated target into saying something regrettable that can and will be used against them over and over again in the court of public opinion.

We’ll manufacture online conflict and controversy that stands a good chance of generating offline coverage in the mainstream media.

And should your foe fight back, we’ll take a slight detour to the high road. We’ll claim only to be interested in having an impassioned constructive conversation and giving voice to the common people.

Here at Diatribe Partners, self-confessed media manipulator and online hit man Ryan Holiday is our patron saint. And Holiday’s expose — Trust Me, I’m Lying — is our playbook.

Holiday, who’s director of marketing for American Apparel and a freelance reputation manager, admits to having abused and misled social media to influence what wound up in the mainstream press. “I created false perceptions through blogs which led to bad conclusions and wrong decisions — real decisions in the real world that had consequences for real people.”

Those tactics and consequences can be ugly. “Online lynch mobs. Attack blogs. Smear campaigns. Snark. Cyberbullying. Trial by comment section. It is clear to me that the online media cycle is not a process for developing truth but for performing a kind of cultural catharsis,” says Holiday.

Anthropologists talk about ritualized destruction and degradation ceremonies. Colonial Massachusetts had Salem witch trials. Today, we have Twitter and Facebook. “Their purpose is to allow the public to single out and denounce one of its members,” says Holiday. “To lower their status or expel them from the group. To collectively take out our anger at them by stripping them of their dignity. It is a we-versus-you scenario with deep biological roots.”

And then there’s the predominance of snark and sarcasm in social media. People say online what they would never have the courage to say face-to-face. “There is a reason that the weak are drawn to snark while the strong simply say what they mean,” says Holiday. “Snark makes the speaker feel a strength they know deep down they do not possess. It shields their insecurity and makes the writer feel like they are in control. Snark is the ideal intellectual position. It can criticize but it cannot be criticized.

“Bloggers lie, distort and attack because it is in their interest to do so. The medium believes it is giving the people what they want when it simplifies, sensationalizes and panders. This creates countless opportunities for manipulation and influence.”

Holiday argues that you can’t have your news instantly and have it done well. That you can’t have your news reduced to 140 characters or less without losing large parts of it. And that you can’t manipulate the news and expect it won’t be manipulated against you.

The economics of the Internet have created a twisted set of incentives, says Holiday. Traffic is more important and profitable than the truth. “When we understand the logic that drives these business choices, those choices became predictable. And what is predictable can be anticipated, redirected, accelerated or controlled.”

Diatribe Partners has decided to ignore Holiday’s final words of caution. “Part of writing this book was about a controlled burn of the plays and scams I have created and used along with the best of them,” says Holiday. “Of course, I know some of you might ignore that part and use this book as an instruction manual. So be it. You will come to regret that choice, just as I have.”