Monday, May 18, 2009

Job fair madness

This is my column today.

SPURRED by the supposed highly successful Jobapalooza job fair held on Labor Day where 200,000 jobs were supposed to have been available and 20,000 persons were supposed (I’ll explain the repeated use of the word supposed later in this column) to have been hired on the spot, a number of government institutions, professional organizations, non-government organizations, local governments, and even barangay councils have been busily organizing their own job fairs. It’s the shawarma phenomenon all over again.

Just last week, there were at least three major job fairs in Metro Manila, one of which was organized by the Social Security System at the Hongkong Shopping Complex along Roxas Boulevard. There’s another major job fair being put together by the Tourism Department next week. And like I said, even local governments and barangay councils have been holding their own job fairs in their own town plazas and barangay centers. I know this for a fact because I am a human resource management professional and the bank that I work for has been getting quite a number of invitations to participate in this and that job fair from cities and municipalities around the country. I’m also an active member of various e-mail groups of HRM practitioners and I’ve read far too many tales of woes from recruitment managers who have participated in these job fairs.

Let me restate what I’ve been advocating in this column for quite sometime now: There’s a lot of jobs in this country and this is easily validated by the fact that there are many business organizations that participate in job fairs. Many companies are now on a hiring mode since the dreaded aftershocks of the global recession didn’t materialize as originally feared.

I have nothing against job fairs per se. Job fairs are a good way to shorten recruitment and selection processes as it is supposed to bring together in one location the two parties that make up the supply and demand factors of the labor market—on one side, the people who are looking for jobs and on the other, the organizations that want to hire people.

However, the equation is not as simple as it is being made to be by government and the organizers of job fairs. There are dynamics of the labor supply and demand situation that need to be carefully considered. Obviously, business organizations cannot just hire anyone who walks into a job fair; therefore, they should not be pressured into doing so. And there is something horribly wrong in a setup where people are herded into a job fair like dumb driven cattle without the benefit of being appraised of the qualifications required by the companies doing the hiring.

The problem is that the organizations —government institutions and local governments in particular—seem to think organizing a job fair is a simple matter of providing a location, inviting companies to participate, and herding the jobless into the venue. Worse, it is very evident that job fairs are now being organized with some ill-disguised political agenda.

The recent Jobapalooza was a clear example of this. Companies were pressured into hiring candidates on the spot —some were even told to bring into the venue applicants they were already processing for hiring prior to the affair just to buttress statistics. In the morning of May 1, tens of thousands of applicants who were duped into going to the job fair were deliberately made to wait outside the venue under very uncomfortable conditions despite the fact that SMX could have easily accommodated so much more people inside (only 3,000 were initially allowed inside when the venue could have easily accommodated as many as four times that number) just so footages of throngs of people forming long lines outside could be made. Conditions improved significantly only when Vice President Noli de Castro left the venue and media attention waned. When television cameras left the scene, the organizers then allowed more people inside the venue.

And since elections are in the offing, some politicians have been using job fairs as campaign tool. Some have no compunctions about making preposterous claims about how they are offering jobs as their gift to their constituents as if they are the ones personally hiring candidates instead of business organizations.

Simply put, a job fair is not, cannot be, and should not be used as mere public relations propaganda tool designed to advance a political agenda. It’s not fair. The business cost of hiring the wrong person is tremendous. It is not fair to the companies that participate in job fairs because they genuinely want to help ease the unemployment problem by filling up their vacancies with qualified people. They end up with thousands of resumes that they cannot process because the applicants do not meet their requirements.

For most people, a job spells the difference between starvation and three meals a day. It is cruel to create false expectations and hopes. And it’s not fair to the jobless who flock to job fairs under the illusion that mere physical presence at a job fair, rather than qualification, is all it takes to be hired. They waste money reproducing their resumes and on transportation and food, even dressing up for the event and putting up with a lot of discomfort, only to go home still jobless as before. Yes, one more proof that it takes more than sipag at tiyaga to make it in this country.

The sad reality is that physical job fairs are not really that necessary; it can all be done online. If government is really serious about the whole thing, it can simply put up a common data bank, where candidates can send their resumes and which recruiters can easily access.

But if we insist on having job fairs, there are mechanisms that can be put in place that could save all of us—government, business organizations, and the candidates—the unnecessary expenses and aggravation. We can actually make job fairs work by just a little strategic thinking and just a little more consideration for the real needs of the parties involved.

We can calibrate our strategies so that a job fair does not become the modern day equivalent of the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack. Instead of organizing extravaganzas, we can make job fairs more targeted and focused. We can organize specific job fairs for specific industries and specific labor markets so that there is better person-job fit. We can put in place better mechanisms that ensure a more effective matchmaking process such as defining qualification standards and attracting the right people into the job fair. Obviously, the antics of politicians and government officials out to sanitize their sagging images will have to go.

The madness needs to be stopped. What we clearly need are a little more sincerity, a little less of the gratuitous posturing and politicizing, and more careful planning and organization.

1 comment:

Edwin K. said...

"They waste money reproducing their resumes and on transportation and food, even dressing up for the event and putting up with a lot of discomfort, only to go home still jobless as before. Yes, one more proof that it takes more than sipag at tiyaga to make it in this country. - Bong Austero

To seek employment after graduation is deeply ingrained in the minds of our youth and I bet there are only a handful of parents today who encourage their children to study hard and go into business after they graduate.

What this country needs in large numbers are entrepreneurs.

I wish more fresh graduates focus their energy and resources to programs such as Go Negosyo.