The Calm After The Storm

After years of high anxiety, today's skilled and flexible workers can finally breathe a sigh of relief

Times have definitely changed. Last year, as the economy became increasingly robust, employers once again turned to recruiters and the classifieds to fill their ranks after a lengthy hiatus. But the sentiment is different this time. In an effort to avoid the mistakes fo years gone by, a new type of employee is being sought.

In scanning today’s employment horizon, as we do at this time each year, certain things become clear: no longer will any of the three employment sectors — public, private or nonprofit — bloat their payrolls with employees who cannot produce 110%. Those who stand to reap are individuals with technical, marketing and above all, interpersonal skills. It’s a trend that doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. Those who heed the call will thrive; those who don’t will be left behind.

After the “slash-and-burn” treatment of workers earlier this decade, some firms have taken a 180-degree turn and are carefully selecting only candidates with the skills they need. Unfortunately, the right skills and talents are not currently available to meet the demand. In certain core businesses, such as high-tech, companies are risking productivity and overhiring in order to ensure they have talented workers as the skilled labor shortage worsens, according to a 1997 survey conducted by Coopers & Lybrand, In fact, nearly two-thirds of the 440 CEOs polled said that a lack of skilled, trained workers is their No. 1 problem, and a repreive is not likely. The areas most affected are proffesionals and techniciants, sales and marketing staff and administrative personnel.

NOT OUT OF THE WOODS
Despite talk of total unemployment hitting a 24-year low of 4.7% last October, African Americans continue to take the brunt of joblessness, with a rate almost double that of whites. Research conducted by economist Andrew grimmer found that in 1996 the rate of black unemployment was 9.9%. That rate averaged 9.3% for 1997 and, says grimmer, will hover around 9.4% by the end of this year. This rate is in stark contrast to the unemployment rate for whites in 1996 and 1997 (4.6% and 4.4% respectively), and would average 4.6% for 1998.

And workers are not totally out of the woods — downsizing is still a clear and present threat. In October 1997, more than 47,000 employees were targeted to be cut from 1998 company payrolls, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based international outplacement firm that tracks corporate layoffs. Total job cuts in 1997 are running a dose second to figures from 1996, which topped 475,000. And with Kodak’s 10,000, Citibank’s 9,000 and Levi-Strauss’ 6,400 announced cuts, experts agree that this is not the time for workers to lower their guard.

“Layoffs will continue for quite some time, but it’s more streamlining than downsizing. Ironically, all kinds of jobs are being created,” says certified management consultant Roger Herman of Herman Associates in Greensboro, North Carolina. “With fewer employees, more than ever employers are hungry for people who can get the job done. So while a company may lay off in one area, they

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