Sunday, April 15, 2012

Just Because They Are Unemployed Does Not Mean They Are Unskilled

For the past two years the national conversation regarding unemployment in America has focused on the need for those without a job or under-employed to obtain more skills and more training.  This has become a rallying cry for justifying why the unemployment numbers remain high, especially among populations of color.  
The purpose of this article is to dispel or to an extent change the direction of the conversation about the traits of the unemployed. I am especially targeting those who use an uninformed description of the unemployed and under-employed to frame discussions on the rate of joblessness in AmericaFirst, I want to make it extremely clear that I agree education and training has a place in reducing under-employment and yes it can impact unemployment. However, it is the broad brush by which the concept of training and skill attainment is discussed that gives me pause for alarm. I have seen the over-reliance of the belief that those unemployed or under employed simply lack the skills of those that have employment. Typically this is used as a means to justify why we see double digit unemployment rates in segments of the population like African Americans and Hispanics.

In an effort to address this issue of untrained Americans, President Obama has set-a-side in his budget plan of nearly eight billion dollars for community colleges to serve as America’s Re-Training Academies, while continuing to serve as the primary gateway to postsecondary access and higher education attainment. President Obama’s funding of the new, but well established traditional mission of community colleges is both daring and noble. The president’s support of America’s community colleges continues in a long line of POTUS who understood the value community colleges bring to our nation, one community at a time. However, new money for the expansion of postsecondary opportunities will mean little if at the end of the re-train/educate pipeline there are no jobs.

            My concern and that of many I have spoken to over the years is a straightforward one. It is grounded in the fact that each and every unemployed person is some how locked in this universal description of being untrained, unskilled and to a large measurement lacking a strong foundation in today’s technology. This is especially placed at the feet of those unemployed who happen to be people of color. These assertions and hyperboles are frequently uttered from the political pundits, talking heads, and political contributors for this network or that network. 

            My retort to those political pundits, talking heads, political contributors and political leaders on each side of the isle, “you really have no clue as to the skills of the unemployed.” I apologize for being so direct, but it seems in this season of non reason, to steal a line from an upcoming book by the same name, written by M. Shelly Robinson, political leaders and the media really have not wanted or dared to examine the depth of the issue of the unemployed and their inability to secure employment.

I met a woman several years ago, who was laid off from a mid-level university in 2005. She held a prominent management position at the university and at the time had years of experience in personnel, project management, IT and a host of others. She possesses a master’s degree in Human Resources, from a top university in the state of Maryland She has been unemployed for seven years. That is right seven years.  She was able to secure one part-time job, a seasonal position with a large retailer where she was responsible for cleaning restrooms after store hours on the 11pm-8am shift. Now given the definition often used by those in the media to justify why a person like the one described above cannot secure employment, hinges on the fact she lacks skills that suggest she can compete in today’s job market.

The fact is their contention that she is without skills would be completely and utterly wrong. Since the time of her unemployment, this mid 40, highly educated minority woman has gained the following skills through her attempts to start her own business and volunteering at local organizations.

Since the time of her unemployment in January 2005, she has gained the following skills:

·  Entered doctoral studies (Higher Education)
·  TV production
·  TV editing
·  Filming
·  Radio Producer “Talk and Music”
·  Script writing
·  Event planning
·  Guest development
·  Social Media
·  Story board writing
·  Publishing
·  Publication layout
·  Interviewing of program guest
·  Writer
·  Blogger

Prior to being laid off in 2005, this unemployed educated mother of three and the wife of an educator had skills in the following area:

  • Management
  • Labor Relations
  • Custom Services
  • Staff Development
  • Finance Management
  • Personnel
  • Computer operations
  • IT
  • Project Management
  • Student Advisement
  • Inventory Management
  • Call Center Management
  • Policy and Procedure Development

I could go on listing her many qualifications, but I am sure you get the point. This woman who is a minority possessed skills that do not become obsolete, but are typically needed by most organizations seeking to maintain a strong and viable infrastructure.  So, why has this person been unable to secure employment beyond a part-time seasonal position cleaning toilets?  

It is my declaration that there are other factors behind the high rate of unemployed and under-employed minorities. There is little empirical evidence to show that the unemployment rate for educated and skill minorities is less for uneducated and be unskilled majority populations.  Populations of color have found the job market to unfriendly to them especially to those who are educated and skilled.

Prior to completing this article, I contacted the woman who had been unemployed for seven years to see if her employment status had changed. She indicated it had not. She also stated she had spoken with a state unemployment counselor who suggested she enroll in a Medical Billing/Coding program at the local community college. The counselor believed it was her best and only chance to ever work again.

Dr. Mike Robinson is the creator of the National Men Make A Difference Day for Student Success and the host of Parent Talk Live. Dr. Robinson is a leading voice/expert on parental engagement and community outreach in education. He is also the CO- CEO ofForest Of The Rain Productions, an Internet communication company, whose mission is to expand the voices in and about education.


  1. Sadly, I am in the same position as this woman. I have not only a Bachelor's degree but an MBA as well. While I've been lucky to land a few temporary positions, I've not been able to land a full-time position. Going back to school is no longer an option for me as I have mounting student loan debt. Luckily, this woman has a husband who can help to maintain the household, I on the other am a single parent who is on the verge of being homeless. At this point, I wouldn't mind being underemployed but no one wants someone with an MBA to be their Admin. Assistant or sales clerk.

  2. The question is can we find someone out there who can help you find employment. Connect with me at We have to find a network for you to find a job!


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