America’s missing workers: matching jobs to the jobless

A few years ago, Derek Hobbs could not find a job. He had three attacks against him: his age, 55, a criminal record and an addiction that prevented him from working officially for more than 25 years.

When he decided to change his life, most employers fired him without thinking. Determined to succeed, Hobbs has turned to an innovative program specializing in matching people facing employment challenges and available jobs.

"They give a chance to people who have been attacked," he told AFP.

Hobbs is just one example of a growing problem in the US economy: companies unable to find workers with the skills to hold open positions, and workers who can not find a job because they have the wrong skills.

The program that Hobbs attended is in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia, the neighborhood of the popular comedy Will Smith of the 1990s, "The Prince of Bel Air": a region so dangerous that his mother sent him live with rich relationships in California.

The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI) is unique among vocational training programs. It has a hyper-local orientation, with workers coming only from the area known as University City, and it trains workers for jobs that already exist in the area.

This 2.4 square mile area is home to two prestigious universities, research hospitals and numerous businesses. But 31% of people live below the poverty line.

While Hobbs had a good work history in adulthood, "from the early 90s to 2012, I was an addict," he told AFP


Like him, many residents of West Philadelphia do not have a strong work habit. According to Sheila Ireland, who has run the WPSI program for many years, the main challenge is to detach the "glue" that keeps them in place, surrounded by friends and neighbors who are not working.

The US economy creating new jobs at a steady pace of nearly 175,000 per month and an unemployment rate of 4.1%, lower than it was in 17 years, the companies complain that they can not fill jobs. no need for advanced skills.

The country has more than six million unmet jobs, the most since the government started collecting data in December 2000, yet many workers have abandoned job search or are part time because they do not find time position.

The typical answer when workers are hard to find is to increase wages and benefits, but wage growth has stagnated or has been at best lukewarm, slightly higher than inflation.

Economists disagree on the main cause of this mismatch between skills and available jobs – and some say that firms simply need to raise wages to attract older or discouraged workers to the labor market.

But new programs have emerged to solve this problem.

Traditional Unemployment and Retraining Centers offer courses on topics such as computer skills and then send workers to the market in the hope of finding a job.

But other programs like WPSI are being developed to give workers the skills that employers need. Many work in partnership with community colleges to adapt training to specific areas where opportunities exist, such as nursing and health care.

Lack of workers is a drag on the US economy that could worsen.

Economist David Wiczer, of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said that having poorly matched workers at jobs means a loss of salary and a loss of growth that would Accelerates with time.

Mismatched workers "are paid less, their wages go down and they are more likely to leave," he told AFP. These disparities "tend to persist for quite a long time" and, for over 15 years, they are worth $ 120,000 less, which represents $ 120,000 that they do not spend on the economy.

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