Workers Find Old Jobs Now Require More Skills

By Christopher S. Rugaber, AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The jobs crisis has brought an unwelcome discovery for many unemployed Americans: Job openings in their old fields exist. Yet they no longer qualify for them.

They're running into a trend that took root during the recession. Companies became more productive by doing more with fewer workers. Some asked staffers to take on a broader array of duties — duties that used to be spread among multiple jobs. Now, someone who hopes to get those jobs must meet the new requirements.

As a result, some database administrators now have to manage network security. Accountants must do financial analysis to find ways to cut costs. Factory assembly workers need to program computers to run machinery.

The broader responsibilities mean it's harder to fill many of the jobs that are open these days. It helps explain why many companies complain they can't find qualified people for certain jobs, even with 4.6 unemployed Americans, on average, competing for each opening. By contrast, only 1.8 people, on average, were vying for each job opening before the recession.

The total number of job openings does remain historically low: 3.2 million, down from 4.4 million before the recession. But the number of openings has surged 37% in the past year. And yet the unemployment rate has actually risen during that time. Companies still aren't finding it easy to fill job vacancies.

Take Bayer MaterialScience, a unit of Bayer. When the company sought earlier this year to hire a new health, safety and environment director for one of its plants, it wanted candidates with a wider range of abilities than before. In particular, it needed someone skilled not just in managing health and safety but also in guiding employees to adapt to workplace changes.

Joe Bozada, chief of staff for Bayer's CEO, said the company initially interviewed 30 candidates. Then it did final interviews with seven. But none had the additional experience the company now wanted. Ultimately, Bozada said, the company chose one of its own employees it had already trained.

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