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Why jobs go begging while unemployment grows

The Sunday classifieds feature a fullpage drawing of a man chained to a chair. "Lock Up Your Best People," reads the caption, "Data General is hiring." The ad clamors for specialized computer engineers.

Farther inside, a quarter-page spread offers jobs with "plenty of variety, and the opportunity to explore your own abilities." This glowing description advertises secretarial and mail-room jobs.

About these ads

The "Help Wanted" sections of most major metropolitan dailies are fat with ads. Even with a soft economy and 7 percent unemployment, many employers have jobs that are going begging. Two kinds of positions are involved -- those for which there are not enough people with the necessary skills, and others that are avoided because people see them as dull and demeaning.

* The demand for degree-level scientists is near an all-time high, according to an index of employment advertising kept by Deutsch, Shea & Evans, a New York consulting firm. With 1961 as a base year of 100, the index now stands at 132, short of the 158 all-time high reached in 1966.

*Many employers can't find enough service workers. The US Department of Labor estimates that 20 percent of America's secretarial jobs are unfilled and predicts a shortage of 250,000 secretaries by 1985. American Hospital Association statistics show a nationwide need for 100,000 nurses. Overall, the Labor Department says demand for service workers will grow 30 percent over the next decade, with strong needs for bank tellers, bookkeepers, data entry personnel, and custodians.

Within the scientific field, aerospace and petrochemical engineers are hot properties. Civil and mechanical engineers are less in demand.

But the most sought-after specialists of all are computer engineers. The University of Missouri estimates that this year's 14,000 graduaes in computer science will be able to pick from 55,000 jobs. Those with advanced degrees will be in even more demand. With such a small pool to pick from, the hiring competition among high-tech companies in fierce.

One Connecticut company lured programmers with a signing bonus of $700 and an ounce of gold.

Many firms pay bonuses to employees who bring friends into the fold. Hughes Aircraft Ground Systems recently promoted a "Referral Sweepstakes," with a gala drawing featuring 10 members of the California Angels baseball team.

About these ads

"I've been around this industry for a while," says Michael Sandler, director of human resources at GCA Corporation." And the hiring is the most superheated it's ever been."

The high-tech want ads advertise positions such as "Fiber Optics/Sub Systems Section Head," "International Custom Engineering Support Manager," and "Systems Software Developer."

Personnel managers say these jobs remain open because few people are trained to do them. The specialized skills needed in the fast-growing industry are not usually taught at colleges and universities.

As a result, hig-tech companies are entering the growing field of in-house training. Wang Institute, part of the Wang Corporation in Boston, offers a college accredited "Master of Software Engineering" degree. Xerox and IBM also offer courses for credit, and the American Society for Training and Development estimates 75 percent of the industry offers extensive in-house education.

The problem at the service end of the scale isn't too little education, but too much.

"It's tough to keep secretaries," says an executive at a Boston compouter firm. "They pick up the 'go-go' enthusiasm of this business, go back to school, adn train themselves for something else."

Employment analysts says this upward mobility, made possible by the rising status of women workers, accounts for much of the secretarial shortage.

The Sunday ads use words like "career opportunity," "exciting office," and "challenging position" to paint secretarial jobs in glowing colors.

But analysts and trade associations claim these phrases are an advertising gimmick.

These experts say management must view secretarial and clerical jobs as entry-level positions, not dead ends, before the shortage can be eased.

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