The New York Times reports that unemployment benefits will shortly run out for many American workers. Congress extended the eligibility period for those benefits to 79 weeks in a number of states (46 weeks or more in others), convinced that a year and a half would be more than enough for most people to find work. Sadly, that has not been the case. The National Employment Law Project, a private research group, estimates that as many as 1.5 million people will have exhausted all 79 weeks of their benefits by the end of the year and still be unemployed.
Why are they having such a hard time finding work? The lack of jobs is clearly one reason. Over 6 million paying positions have disappeared during the downturn.
There’s a second reason, however, and sadly, it’s received very little attention. People are struggling to find work because their careers are in ill health. They’re unemployed, not because they’re slacking off in their job search, but because their skill set is emaciated, their occupational expertise is weak and their ability to make a meaningful contribution on-the-job is limited.
That reality isn’t true of everyone, I suppose, but it is certainly widespread. It affects Baby Boomers, Gen Ys and Millennials alike and touches those in every occupational field and industry and at every level of seniority. It is, in a very real sense, a pandemic of career deficiency.
This situation also makes clear the opportunity Congress missed when it lengthened the eligibility period for unemployment benefits last year. The extension was enacted because Congressional leaders realized that the severity of the recession would limit rapid reemployment for many of those in the job market. It was the right prescription but addressed only half of the problem. It helped people survive, but didn’t enable them to recover. It put salve on the symptoms, but didn’t cure the illness.
If, on the other hand, Congress had also given every unemployed person a voucher for a course of instruction at a local college or university, it would have done both. It would have relieved the pain of America’s workers and strengthened their future prospects. It would not only have provided them with needed financial relief, it would have planted the seeds that could repair the damage done to their careers.
That didn’t happen, however, so what should we do?
First, we need to accept a hard truth: in today’s unforgiving economy, unemployment is not simply the cessation of work. It is also symptomatic of a career deficiency. As with a physical illness, however, having a sick career doesn’t mean that you’ve engaged in unsafe career behavior or done anything wrong. It means that your career is suffering and you need to tend to it, even as you look for a new job.
Second, it’s our job to look after our careers even as we look for work. How do you accomplish that? Any of the following will get you started:
• Take a course that will update your skills or knowledge so that you are at the state-of-the-art in your occupational field
• Learn a second language so that you can apply your capabilities in more places and work situations
• Acquire expertise in a new software application so you can enhance your productivity on-the-job
• Develop your capacity for leadership so that you can take on positions of more responsibility
• Upgrade your interpersonal skills so that you can work effectively in multicultural environments.
In short, re-imagine yourself as a work-in-progress. Begin to cure what ails your career and annotate your resume to reflect that effort. The cure will put you on the road to a meaningful and rewarding career while the annotation on your resume will make you a much more attractive candidate in the job market.
Thanks for reading,
Please visit me at CareerFitness.com