Archive: May, 2009
Help Wanted: Obviously, the job market is miserable, but according to Manpower Inc., there are some jobs that are still tough to fill.
"In the four years we have performed this research, the same positions appear on the list again and again. Despite the current economic instability and high unemployment, there are still skills that the workforce seems to lack," said Jonas Prising, president of Manpower's Americas division. Manpower is a staffing company based in Milwaukee. Its outplacement division, Right Management, is headquartered here in Philadelphia.
So, here are the top jobs:
Over the years, organizational development consultant Michael J. Kitson said, he has come to identify about a half dozen issues that really concern top executives, especially chief executives and company presidents. Yes, they'll hire him for some ostensible assignment, but as the conversation develops, the assignment will turn into dealing with one of these issues.
The issues are fascinating and center around the ability to get accurate information. Chief executives, Kitson said, worry about their isolation at the top. They are petrified that they won't get accurate information from their underlings, particularly their direct reports. They worry that their direct reports will tell them only what they think their boss wants to hear. They worry that their direct reports, in an effort to increase their territory and power within the company, will slant the information in a way that can hurt the company as a whole. And by the way, they always need to keep a sharp eye on the direct reports, figuring that at least one of them is gunning for the job of chief executive.
What do executives do to cope? They turn to others in their industry or at their country clubs for advice and support. They may bring in a consultant simply to have someone to lean on who is outside the corporate structure. This is particularly important, Kitson said, when companies are laying off people and the executives feel responsibility, both for the people and for the company. Kitson, a former Sun Oil Co. executive, operates his consulting business in Malvern.
The laid-off workers that I wrote about in Sunday's piece on the closing of the Reynold's packaging plant in Downingtown didn't get a dime in severance. They didn't even get vacation pay for the balance of the year. Pretty harsh. Many of the nearly 150 who lost their jobs had worked at the plant for decades.
Interestingly, one in four employers doesn't have any kind of severance policy, according to Mercer, the consulting company that specializes in employee benefits. That doesn't mean they don't pay severance benefits -- it just means they don't have a policy. (I'm sure Mercer would be available to help draw one up.) That info comes from 400 mid-size and large employers across the nation who responded to an April survey conducted by Mercer on severance policies. Mercer found that two-thirds of the organizations that responded had staff reductions, but that very few changed their severance policies, despite changes in their overall compensation practices.
It'll come as no surprise to anyone that executives are well protected, Mercer's survey shows. Nearly all, 98 percent, got severance and three out of four had some continuation of benefits. More than two-thirds had outplacement help with fewer than one in five having to have had worked for the company for a minimum period to get severance help. Typically, severance payments max out at year for executives.
Thank you, Inquirer readers, for your many interesting comments (via phone, email and online) about my Sunday story on the closing of the Reynold's packaging plant in Downingtown, putting as many as 150 people out of work. What really impressed me about this story was the tragic confluence of circumstances. At some point between April 2007, when Reynolds put its packaging division up for sale and January 2009, when workers received notice that the factory would close, the Rank Group had to have looked over the numbers and made a decision about the factory. It didn't help that oil prices were up -- meaning that it would cost more to make the plastic labeling the company used. It didn't help that some manufacturing processes were botched and that an important press that could have made a difference was left in storage. You are looking at the intersection of a decision-making time with existing facts. If the decision window had been different, perhaps the decision would have been different and the lives of the workers could have continued peacefully as they were.
But some of it is so randomly coincidental. I'm thinking about this in my own life. Our family had to choose between two colleges for my son, and the choice had to be made between March 31 and May 1 -- 30 days. In the end, he chose a school where he would be able to co-op more easily, study abroad and where he could have smaller classes as a freshman. The other school, which we loved just as much, if not more, for many reasons, also had co-op and study abroad options, but they weren't as well organized. And the possibility of smaller classes would come in later years, not immediately. The other school also will have new leadership in the department, probably by the end of the year. That new leader might well improve the co-op options. But he isn't going to college in a year; he's going now, so we had to make the decision based on the current situation. What ramifications will the decision have? Of course, he's a lucky boy to even have the opportunity to go to college.
To our family, my son's college education is of paramount importance and my husband and I put tremendous time and effort into helping to prepare him for this important part of his future. Indeed, we count educating our two children as one of our primary jobs as parents, just below food, shelter and love.
To get a job, it's all about sell, sell, sell -- the product being yourself and your skills. But author Mark Magnacca says that philosophy only goes so far. His soon-to-be-released book, "So What? How to Communicate What Really Matters to Your Audience" makes the point that the sales pitch needs to be made with the customer in mind. For someone laid off, the customer, obviously, is the potential employer.
Think of it this way: You say that you are a great communicator, or an excellent computer whiz. That's nice. But it is also like saying, "I have a terrific BMW sports coupe for sale." So what? The buyer wants a vehicle capable of schlepping the Cub Scout patrol back from the soap box derby. How many Cub Scouts can fit in a sports coupe? Maybe you can tie them on the trunk using a series of square knots (that way they can practice for their merit badges.)
Magnacca says employers don't really care about what you can bring to the table. They want their needs met, period. Unfortunately, it is sooooo not about you.
Talk to anyone who is unemployed and you'll soon learn that one of the biggest worries is health insurance. No doubt activists who work with the unemployed will rally some of them to attend a protest this morning at 11:30 a.m. at Independence Blue Cross headquarters in Philadelphia at 19th and Market Streets. The insurer has asked the Pennsylvania Insurance Department for permission to raise its non-group health insurance rates, effective July 1.
Check out what could happen to a parents in their 40s with children. A family now paying $1,254.30 a month would see a premium hike to $1,752, an increase of $497.70 per month, or 40 percent. Parents in their 30s with children have an even bigger hike, up 52.8 percent. Many of the hikes are in the 25 percent range.
No doubt Independence Blue Cross has an explanation for this, and later on today, I'll give them a call to find out. In advance, I will say that it definitely costs more to insure an individual on his own than it does to insure a person in a group, because groups have administrators who understand the paperwork. Individuals make a lot more use of customer service, increasing overhead costs.
Sometimes, I honestly don't know whether to bang my head against the wall or break out into hysterical laughter. Probably all the above, as you will see in a minute.
Just an insight into the world of reporters -- we probably get at least 50 "helpful" story ideas a day. Truly, I get that public relations people need their jobs as much as I need mine, so in some ways, the writer of this pitch probably deserves a gold medal for making a valiant effort. Personally, I really enjoy/hate (that's the head-banging, laughing part) how every single pathetic cart of a story is attached to that over-worked recession, unemployment horse.
I'm just going to cut and paste the entire pitch so you can laugh or gasp, as you see fit:
Can you slip on a banana peel and make people laugh? Or is it just your face that throws the general populace into hysterics? (Mine makes babies cry.) If so, there is a job for you.
You have to love a job posting that looks for someone with an over-active funny bone and aspirations to live on a train. On Tuesday, May 19, Ringling Brothers will hold auditions for clowns, age 18 or over. There's no mention of a resume. Instead, candidates need to prepare a three-to-five minute routine that will demonstrate "their ability to display exaggerated facial expressions, athleticism or any unique physical skills, an understanding of their comedy, as well as a sense of personality."
Auditioners can check in at 8 a.m. at the Wachovia Spectrum. You need to pre-register at WachoviaCenter.com/clowns. If any of you do this, please write and tell what happened!