Consider a Temp-to-Hire Strategy to End Long-Term Unemployment

The good news: nationwide unemployment rates continue to fall. Last month it dipped below the 7% mark for the first time in over five years!

The bad news: millions of people remain unemployed.

Most experts agree that we’re gradually clawing our way out of the recession. On a national scale, the numbers look terrific. On a smaller scale, however, the skies are still a bit cloudy for many individuals and businesses.

People experiencing long-term employment, for example, are having a hard time finding jobs—especially if they’re looking for positions comparable (in salary, status, responsibilities, etc.) to what they did pre-unemployment. Why? One reason is that some corporate hiring managers prefer candidates with more recent work experience. A number of studies have demonstrated that many employers do discriminate against candidate who have been out of work for six months or longer, giving that factor even more weight than actual experience or expertise.

Over one-third of the unemployed fall in the category of “long-term unemployed” (defined as people out of work for at least twenty-seven weeks). Yet at the same time, companies are complaining that they can’t find qualified people for open positions. When the ranks of the long-term unemployed include millions of people with decades of experience, in-demand skills, advanced degrees, and other strong credentials, it seems that companies are missing a great opportunity here.

The solution to both parties’ woes is clear: companies need to start hiring the long-term unemployed.

In his annual State of the Union address earlier this week, President Obama “pulled CEOs of major companies together to pledge not to discriminate in hiring decisions against the long-term unemployed.” Larry Zimpleman, the new chair of the Financial Services Roundtable, intends to sign this pledge and urges other CEOs to follow suit. (And so far, many companies have, including Xerox, Lockheed Martin, and A&T.) As far as he’s concerned, this course of action makes excellent business sense. Individuals get jobs, and companies find the qualified people they desperately need.

The benefits of hiring someone who’s been unemployed long term have been spelled out in detail. I agree with them all, but want to take this opportunity to urge staffing agencies in particular to keep the long-term unemployed in mind when searching for candidates. Not only do many of them have in-demand qualifications and experience, but placing these workers in temporary positions yields benefits all around:

  • The long-term unemployed get jobs that draw on their experience and skill sets.

  • Staffing agencies get to meet their clients’ needs by placing qualified people in long-open positions.

  • Companies get to “try out” employees before offering them permanent employment.

Pursuing this strategy leads to a clear win-win-win situation for all parties. Honestly, I have a difficult time imagining why anyone wouldn’t want to do this. As one analysis points out, “The worst possible outcome for all of us is if the long-term unemployed become unemployable. That would permanently reduce our productive capacity.” That’s an outcome that would truly be disastrous to everyone. It’s easily avoidable, fortunately—but not if companies keep their present course and continue to overlook this valuable pool of potential employees.


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