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Two years after the start of the recession, the unemployment rate is still near double digits, which translates to millions of Americans looking for work. For every open job, employers have dozens or even hundreds of applicants eager to get hired. Yet many employers insist that finding qualified candidates is difficult, even in this economy. How can that be?
These employers don't have a shortage of applicants -- they have a shortage of qualified applicants. For most positions, the necessary skills, experience and education requirements are firm and can't be loosened because of a lack of suitable candidates. Bad economy or not, employers need to know their workers are the best possible people for the job.
A good worker is hard to find
"These jobs were difficult to fill prior to the economic downturn," says Julian L. Alssid, executive director of the Workforce Strategy Center in New York. "Hopefully, they will be less difficult to fill as we move more toward a more demand-driven work-force development system in the U.S. This means local employers working directly with community colleges, trade schools and other post-secondary institutions that help people gain skills that are in demand by employers."
Education is an invaluable asset for any applicant, but as many job seekers can attest, it isn't the only prerequisite for employment. When employers are choosing the right candidate for their organizations, they want to see years of experience and an education that isn't outdated. As you can imagine, any worker who falls at extreme ends of the spectrum -- such as a new graduate or an industry veteran -- can be at a disadvantage. New graduates know the latest research and technology, but they don't have the years of firsthand experience that employers value.
"We do hear employers complain that younger workers fresh out of school often lack a practical understanding of how to apply what they have learned in their classrooms to the workplace," Alssid says. "That said, we have heard from several experienced workers that they feel they are losing out on jobs to younger -- less costly -- candidates."
Don't mistake a need for experience as a reason to dismiss education. The problem is that job seekers have to take responsibility for their education because many employers no longer have the time and budget to groom new hires.
"Employers seem to be less willing to invest in training in this economy. Again, it is the combination of the right credential and practical experience they look for," Alssid says.
Take the initiative to improve your credentials so employers see a candidate they're ready to hire now.
"Many job seekers can make themselves more competitive by getting industry-recognized credentials that are valued in today's workplace," Alssid says. "In many cases, that might mean a short-term certificate, not another college or graduate degree."
But many employers are ready to hire.
"We hear about the skills shortage from industries including health care, advanced manufacturing, IT and energy," Alssid says. Although no specific job title is in constant need, any positions relying on math and technical expertise are consistently difficult to fill. "I have heard from several advanced manufacturers that they would hire engineers and engineering technicians in a heartbeat."
Supporting his assessment is the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which expects biomedical engineers and network systems and data communications analysts to be the fastest-growing occupations between 2008 and 2018. As a result, job seekers who are applying to these fields and who have the qualifications need to put their experience and skills front and center. In the cover letter, résumé and interview, don't let hiring managers forget that you already have the skills they need. After all, you are just one job seeker in a competitive market; show employers that you're different from the rest.
Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/abalderrama.
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