Jobless Experiencing "Search Friction"

Feb 27, 2013

Connecticut’s recovery has been marked by persistent high unemployment. But many employers are starting to complain that they can’t find the skilled workers they need. WNPR’s Sujata Srinivasan asks – is that because they aren’t out there, or could it be that they’re just hard to find?

With the unemployment rate hovering above eight percent, there’s no denying it’s a tough labor market. But a quick web search of job vacancies at local companies shows hundreds of open positions. Matthew Atwater is co-founder of IT firm Tsunami Tsolutions in Glastonbury, which develops aerospace computer systems. He has plans to increase his workforce by 20 percent this year. But finding the right talent, Atwater says, hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been really difficult I think sometimes, especially recently. You know couple of years ago we’d get a lot of applications, you know, to a particular posting and I’d say a good percentage of them would be people we’d be interested in talking to about the position. Sometimes we would even hire two people off of one posting. I’d say in the last couple of years we still get a lot of applications, but those applications really aren’t relevant to the position we’re trying to hire for; they don’t necessarily have as much the experience or the skills that we’re looking for.” 


Atwater and other entrepreneurs are turning to HR firms and recruiting companies. One of them is Robert Half International in Hartford. The agency lists about 150 jobs statewide on its website currently. Hiring manager Gary Sacks of the technology division. 


“So it takes specialized companies, specialized recruiting companies to find those people. Certainly companies try to find them on their own. Managers, good managers will network on their own and try to find people. But it’s difficult finding those people.”


We’ve heard a lot in recent years about a ‘skills gap’ in the US labor market, but another reason that could possibly explain a high vacancy rate when so many people are looking for jobs is search friction. Connecticut Labor Department economist Patrick Flaherty says asymmetric or imperfect information makes it difficult for employees and employers to find each other. 

“Couple of years ago the Noble prize-winning economists developed the whole notion that the labor market really doesn’t work like other markets; that’s it’s more like marriage. That it’s like trying to find just the right person, whether you’re an employer trying to find just the right employee or whether you’re the person who’s trying to find just the right job to match what you can do and what you would like to do. And so there’s tremendous frictions in the labor market.”  


Advertising agency head Maria Miranda of Miranda Creative in Norwich says nearly 70 percent of her clients are using technology – mainly social media – to find the right person.  


“We’re very actively helping clients develop this process. What I’m seeing is a steady migration from them questioning their traditional methodology to migrating into social media because they’re not seeing the qualified candidates that they want and also are questioning why are they not seeing the individuals when there’s such a need for employment.”  


Miranda says the old traditional methods of print classifieds and the new traditional channel of online job posting services are costly and time consuming, delaying the hiring process.


“There are individuals who are just sending out resumes and opportunities for anything possible without really qualifying themselves for those roles and the results are a much greater demand on human resources departments for being able to process them. Everyone’s having to step away from that model because it’s not realistic.”


One of her clients, a transportation company, turned to social media after trying out more traditional methods. 


“They’ve been able to find some amazing drivers through LinkedIn profile and surprisingly enough, through their Facebook page.” 


That’s because, Miranda says, the information provided is more precise, people who know the prospective candidate well, such as friends, will often share and forward specific postings, making the hiring process less expensive, faster and leading to a closer pairing. Matthew Atwater of Tsunami Tsolutions also turned to social media. 


“We are dealing with the sort of a closed group professionals in a lot of cases who have the kind of domain experience we want. You know they’ll come to you like a LinkedIn or they would find you potentially through Facebook and in a lot of ways as an organization, it’s helped us to find the right kind of people and connect with those people. And it’s actually helped me connect people to other employment as well. So if I have somebody that I know and I know there’s somebody out there looking, I can connect them through social media that way as well.” 


While technology has its limitations and good old-fashioned networking is still indispensible, Miranda says companies are willing to wait because there are so many candidates to choose from. They’d rather wait and hire right than hurry and hire right now.


For WNPR, I’m Sujata Srinivasan