Chapter 4: A Futile Chore
Footnote: Bureaucracy: An Effective Information Resource
Competition in the recruitment industry has fragmented and dispersed job vacancy information making the task of job seeking all but impossible. If the nation's skills are going to be deployed efficiently, this information will have to be brought together into one place where the job seeker can find it.
Searching newspapers for job advertisements is a very hit and miss process. It could never be described as systematic. The job seeker has to hope that he sees the right advertisement at the right time. For instance, he could search for ages and finally find a job he can do, apply for it and be offered it. But it is far from the ideal job. The very next week he may find - if he is still looking - a job which suits his skills, experience and interests much more closely. Does he keep the first offer waiting for an answer while he applies for the better one and risk loosing both? The next month, the week after, or even the following day, could reveal another even better job. He cannot start the first job and leave the very next month, week or day. Consequently he is unlikely to end up in the job which is best for him, or indeed even one he likes. Advertising in newspapers is a very poor, unsystematic and necessarily unsuccessful method of trying to match the jobs required by the economy to the skills available within the workforce.
Furthermore, this basic unsuitability of newspaper advertisements as a means of matching people to jobs is exacerbated by the nature of their content. They always make outrageous demands concerning the qualifications and experience required for the advertised job. They also paint a grossly over grandiose picture of the job and of the company offering it. A job advertisement has become a politicised statement about the advertiser. It is never an accurate description of the job or the minimum necessary and sufficient qualities a person would need in order to do it. These advertisements scare off all whom the job would ideally suit and place within it one who is so over qualified for it that they rapidly become bored, disillusioned and frustrated and leave.
Obstructiveness of Agencies
Direct advertising of job vacancies by employers is diminishing. They now increasingly 'out-source' the task of fulfilling their vacancies to an exploding population of specialist employment agencies. The barrier which these present to the job seeker has already been covered in detail. The all-too-visible conclusion is that agencies are thus - at least for the older job seeker - another wholly ineffective channel for seeking work.
Inadequacy of NATVACS
For most of my 10 years of unemployment Jobcentres maintained databases of local job vacancies. Every time a local employer advised the local Jobcentre of a vacancy it had, Jobcentre staff entered that vacancy onto the Jobcentre's database. But it was all very local. It was useless for anybody like myself whose job market was in the commuter travel-to-work radius or even national in scope.
Then, in the last couple of years, Employment Services decided to link all these local systems together to enable staff at one Jobcentre to search the vacancies in other Jobcentres. This system became known as NATVACS (National Vacancies System). At about the same time, an already established means of formally specifying occupations was reviewed and rationalised. It is the SOC (Standard Occupational Classification) code. This is now a 3-digit number which supposedly defines exactly what you are (job-wise) and hence your implied skills-set. I need three SOCs to specify what I am.
Every fortnight when I sign on, my Client Advisor enters my three SOC codes into the NATVACS. It returns a list of the vacancies it currently has on file which fit my skills set. The geographical scope of each search can be set before the search is expedited.
Though potentially very powerful, the NATVACS is currently ineffective for several reasons.
- The SOC codes are too broad a classification system. My codes include job types which are in no way related to my skills or the kinds of jobs I could do.
- Staff entering vacancies frequently get the codes wrong. Consequently, many vacancies are presented to job seekers for whom they are irrelevant and are hidden from those to whom they are relevant.
- Those who post vacancies on NATVACS know the
resulting job applications will come from the unemployed. Not their first choice as a source of candidates. Employers therefore use it only if they cannot find candidates anywhere else. Consequently, vacancies posted on NATVACS are those nobody else wants.
- An uncannily high proportion of those who post vacancies on NATVACS seem to be employment agencies who trawl NATVACS to help build up their own private databases. Applications for such jobs come up against the inevitable discriminatory practices and technical ignorance of the employment agencies.
National Bulletin Board System
I wrote an open letter regarding the difficulty in getting work to Computer Weekly in 1987 and out of the hundreds of responses I got nation-wide, a hard core of 50 of us decided to investigate the
idea of setting up an organisation which could market our services
nation-wide on a daily basis.
This prompted me to draw up a business proposal to set up an organisation for providing and marketing the services of home-based, disabled and otherwise `house-bound' IT professionals using state-of-the-art communications facilities giving rapid access to the day-to-day availability of operatives nation-wide. On the strength and content of this proposal I was awarded a DTI Enterprise Initiative grant. On the advice of the DTI consultants, I even went as far as setting up a company called Telecommuting Associates Ltd as a vehicle for it.
In December 1990, just before the Internet started to take off, I published an article in several places in the industry press about the service I was proposing as a more effective way of matching available IT skills to the IT tasks which needed doing. Part of this service was going to be to establish a free central register on a computer bulletin board. This would be accessible on a free 0800 telephone number. It would be used by:
- any job seeker (skill provider) employed, self-employed or unemployed
- any human resource seeker (skill requirer) individual or corporate
It would be accessible:
- by anybody from any Jobcentre or Job Club
- by any corporate line or human resource manager
- by any individual who had access to a personal computer with a modem.
The register would contain details of the skills and the location of anybody - including the self-employed and the unemployed - who wished to offer their skills and expertise. In the case of the self-employed it would also provide a day-to-day availability diary so that any manager requiring the offered skills could find them and book them.
However, the venture never took off. The reason it failed was simply that the service we were attempting to provide was not of a commercially viable nature. It provided a service which would have been of immense benefit to both requirer and provider, but this benefit could not be measured or policed on a one-to-one commercial basis. By nature it could only work as a centrally funded public service.
To succeed, it would have to be unique and universal within the country within which it operated. It would have to be the one single place where everybody placed their requirements and offered their labour. It could only be realised as a single non-commercial item of national infrastructure. To be effective it must be accessible to all - the rich and the poor, from the wealthy to the destitute. Therefore it must be free. There can be no commercially realisable interest in running it privately. Naturally, therefore, in a country whose government of the day embraced unreservedly an ethos of pure undiluted commercialism, neither I nor the many who showed interest in the idea could raise the capital to fund it. So it died. And the recession came.
The bulletin board system would have been an ideal candidate for implementation as a web site on the Internet. An ideal application for an SQL database server. A project I would simply love to get my software developer's 'teeth' into.
An ever increasing number of companies (potential employers) are now presenting themselves on the World Wide Web. On most corporate web sites there is a page showing their current job vacancies. But how can a lone individual job seeker ever hope to conduct a systematic search of all these sites for the jobs which match his skills. In my experience the Internet search engines can't find them. For a start the life-span of a vacancy is too short to be caught within the 4 to 6 week sweep cycle of a search engine. Secondly, I doubt whether a company's human resources staff are going to bother entering a meaningfully indexed 'META' tag for each vacancy they post on their company's web site.
The same is true of the enormous number of employment agency web sites now on the Net. I have submitted my 'on-line' CVs to all the major agency sites I know about. I never hear anything from them. And the vacancy listings are much the same as the job ads in newspapers. And about as effective.
What is desperately needed is one single site on the Internet where both job seeker and employer can meet. This could, government willing, be the future glorious role of the successor to NATVACS for which I already have a ready-made blueprint. Implementing such a system would be something to which I could ideally apply my dormant suppressed and frustrated expertise. This system would be able to help find permanent jobs, part time work, project-based work, retainer-based work, home-based, per week, per day, per hour - whatever the worker's personal circumstances and the employer's reasonability would allow. It would even allow its administrators to do practically all their work via home-based terminals when needed.
The efficient deployment of the nation's skills and talents is vital to an economy which hopes to compete in the new, ever more turbulent, global market. It is not likely to be able to compete for much longer unless it switches to a far more robust and systematic mechanism for matching people to jobs. Better matching, if I dare consider it relevant in a capitalist economy, would also vastly improve the quality or life of the workforce. It is time to discard the Tebbittite "on yer bike" philosophy which penalises those who do not wish to sacrifice their family life upon the alter of ambition. With the enabling technology now available, it is time for the work to follow the worker.
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©May 1998 Robert John Morton