With 15 million unemployed, thousands of middle class jobs go unfilled

Times are tough for the 15.1 million people looking for work. Many are likely to see their benefits end before they find another job. And yet there are lots of $60,000-a-year jobs that employers can't fill. What gives? Unfortunately people who got thrown out of jobs like assembling cars and trucks can't get new ones because they often don't have the right skills.

It is not exactly clear how many of those $60,000 jobs are out there. According to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 2.4 million open jobs in July. Of those, 422,000 were in professional and business services and another 534,000 were in the education and health services categories. My guess is that most of those jobs pay at least $60,000 representing about 40 percent of the unfilled positions.

What kinds of unfilled jobs pay $60,000? There's a long list: nurses, pharmacists, MRI technicians, energy researchers, accountants, health care workers, software sales representatives, actuaries, data analysts, physical therapists, electrical engineers, plant scientists and geotechnical engineers.

With the ratio of unemployed to open jobs topping 6:1 (as I wrote back in July, when there were 14.5 million unemployed and 2.4 million open jobs), the need for work is great. But then you have the problem of an unemployed quality control (QC) engineer for auto supplier Dura Automotive Systems Inc. in Mancelona, MI who told the AP he made about $75,000. When he applies for QC jobs in windmill blade or solar panel factories, he never hears back.

There is no easy answer. It's obvious that the people who lose their jobs ought to get training for the ones that go begging, but when you have no job, eating and paying the rent come first. Where will such unemployed workers find the extra money to get the training they need to take those open positions?

And then there's the problem of figuring out what kind of work they really like doing and have a talent to perform. For instance, while a person who turned a wrench on an auto assembly line might enjoy the pay that comes from nursing, it is unclear how many of those workers would have a knack for nursing.

With companies taking their time to hire just the right person, the odds that an employer will take a chance on a person who did well in a different industry are pretty low. Right now, it looks like there's no private sector solution.

The U.S. may need to step in to provide funding for the kind of retraining that's needed to fill those empty jobs. But with 15.1 million out of work, even that would not be enough.

Peter Cohan is a management consultant, Babson professor and author of eight books including, You Can't Order Change. Follow him on Twitter.

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