Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Unhidden Jobs Market

I'm nearing the end of my time on Work Choice, after which I am going to be put on the Work Programme. I'm dreading it because of my previous experience on the Flexible New Deal and because of an incessant, irritating assumption on which welfare to work initiatives are based.

Early on in these programmes, you can often expect to be handed a sheet claiming that 'most job opportunities are never advertised' and giving a figure for the 'hidden jobs market' as accounting for anywhere between 70% to a ridiculous 90%. This would mean that although 400,000 job vacancies are advertised in JobCentres, it's only 10%: there's actually 4 million job opportunities. It seems very convenient so I always ask for a source for this and it is never delivered. So I went looking for one and think I may have found it; unsurprisingly it comes from the United States where the cult of optimism has infested every corner of society(I very much recommend the book 'Smile or Die' by Barbara Ehrenreich).

Whilst searching, this article kept repeatedly appearing and it seemed to be the only slightly thorough examination of 'the hidden jobs market'. It was certainly widely discussed in places. It's written by Dr Katharine Hansen, a 'career management' expert. What strikes me is that this article represents the BEST set of arguments made anywhere in support of the assertion made by welfare to work providers and 'career management' agencies. She was motivated to write it in response to Gerry Crispin, a man obviously admired by his peers in this field including Dr Hansen, after she read that he had called the hidden jobs market a myth. She goes back and forth to address his points but he clearly doesn't get a proper response and she sets over fifty other 'career management' consultants against him pretty much. I'm not sure if she ended up convincing Crispin, but her article does not convince me. It rests heavily on canvassing the opinions of people who rely on this myth for their jobs, the one piece of solid statistical evidence that is cited is from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, specifically the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey(JOLTS). It shows quite definitely that employers in the US hire more people than the vacancies they advertise for.

There's just one problem with this: the interpretation career management 'experts' draw from it. If McDonalds need to fill five vacancies, they don't advertise them five times separately; they advertise one vacancy then pick five of the candidates to fill them. That is the most simple and clear explanation for how more people can be hired than there were vacancies being advertised but what job agencies and welfare to work providers have been doing at least since the 90s is adding in unnecessary steps to justify claiming that this means vacancies are not being advertised at all and then embellishing that claim and supporting it with yet more assertions not backed with evidence. But the simple explanation, that advertised vacancies are consolidated, doesn't get a look at.

What this also means is that there are more jobs than there are advertised; what applies in the US will to an extent apply in Britain. But what is absolutely not justified is the claim that you can unlock access to these through speculative inquiries and 'networking' which is really what welfare to work providers and career management consultants rely on pushing to justify their existence. Jobseekers already access many of these unadvertised vacancies because they are consolidated with publicised ones and only 'unadvertised' on paper.


  1. I don't think the process has anything to do with finding people jobs. It's just satisfying the bloodlust of the populace fired up on stories about scrounging Chavs with 42" HDTV's - mysteriously purchased with the same level of benefits that leaves the rest of us in perpetual poverty. The rhetoric in Germany is depressingly similar although this brave soul did attempt a public fightback. And I have to say there seems to be a lot of sympathy for her point of view in the comments. (All in German I'm afraid.)

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