I had a long talk with a group of job seekers recently about how long they have been searching, how they are coping with the challenges they are facing and how they feel about their prospects. It was actually a much more broad discussion than that, but I think those areas sum up a lot of it.
The length of time ranged from 2 months to almost 18 months; and more than one person was at the higher end of that spectrum. To some in the group hearing how long others had been out of work was devastating, you could see it in their eyes and in how their shoulders dropped at hearing the news. It is difficult to remain positive when you hear something like that let alone being the one going through it. The hardest question, a tough one to ask and answer without getting too personal, is not how they are coping with the situation but , “How are you surviving?” and I don’t ask this in the group setting. If anyone wants to share they can, but mostly this question remains one of the few elephants in the room.
I generally find out later when we talk one on one that some people are on the verge of bankruptcy, others have sold homes and cars for money, others are fortunate enough to still have a stock portfolio to draw from, or cashing out on what were supposed to be retirement funds. Somehow in some way, for as long as it lasts these people are finding new strength within them to figure out how to survive. Similarly, many people with no prior tools or training to deal with the emotional burden of the experience are also finding the strength within them to cope, to endure the unknown. But with national unemployment in the US hovering around 12.5% it is not easy.
The most amazing thing about these endurance job seekers is that they are still trudging on, they are tired, their identity is slowly slipping away in a society where we put so much emphasis on ‘what you do is who you are’. I actually know how they feel from first-hand experience. It is like running a race that you do not know where the finish line is. Can you even imagine that? I am not a runner by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t all that tough an analogy to make. The moment the job is lost the job seeker often finds the energy (or maybe even anger) and is fueled to take off on their search like it’s a 100 meter dash. Then they reach that 100 meter mark and realize that they have to keep on going. Maybe now they feel like they’re running the 400 meter so they pace for a week or so and then turn up the heat on the search again and still they hit the 400 mark and have to keep going. For many this goes on and on and on not knowing when to jog or sprint, though every hint of a job possibility requires the effort necessary to pick up the pace as if it were that last half mile of the marathon, to tap into the reserves for one last push. And again, for many that has to happen over and over again.
Interestingly enough, these are people who will push themselves to march on. They will keep trying, they will continue to find new angles, exploit new networks, and rewrite their resume yet another time. It is hard work, many persevere, but many do not. Many people I talk to feel like they are hovering just over rock bottom if not already there, but truly there are those that I do not often see who are most definitely already there. It is estimated that nearly 3.5M people experience homelessness in the US in any given year since 2000. At the cost of their home, their health, their self-esteem, their dignity, they are no longer part of the unemployed statistic; they have joined some other societal statistic that is so very often another elephant in the room especially at this time of year.
As staffing professionals we have a major and almost insurmountable task ahead of us in this New Year. We must work as hard as we can to drive these numbers down. To help our employers and clients understand that we, as a society, as a community, as people have a responsibility to reduce the statistics on unemployment and homelessness. I know how this sounds. I am taking the job that most of us quite frankly fell into (unless there is a recruiting degree out there I don’t know about),that we’ve become professionals at, that we so often take for granted and attaching some noble mission to it. The bottom line is that putting people in jobs in this economy is in fact a very noble cause.
For the most downtrodden we will give what we can to help just like everyone else should; with blankets and food and clothing donated. Where we can we should donate some time to meet with those who are still making the efforts to pick themselves up and help the professionals who work in that space to do their jobs.
But our strength is in doing our job. For the people we encounter most, those Endurance Job Seekers we need to prepare them for the road ahead, running with them, showing them how to navigate the course, coaching them, helping them pace themselves. We also need to be standing on the side of the road providing those little paper cups full of emotional support and encouragement to help them keep going. We must keep them on their feet and moving forward.
It is a quite disconcerting to be going through the start of another year without a job and to face the unknown. We know that we have the skills and abilities to help these folks find the finish line; let us find the courage to ramp up our efforts to do so.
May this be a great new year for everyone.