Employers Seeking Purple Squirrels

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Employers have been searching for an elusive creature, a being that possesses a wide range of skills, qualifications, and work experiences. Basically, the perfect job candidate. In other words, a purple squirrel.

“Most recruiters know that a purple squirrel is a very rare, highly sought after, almost extinct species of candidate,” Leslie Mason, managing director of a Dallas recruitment firm, wrote on her blog “Who Do You Know?”

In a job market saturated with thousands of job seekers, organizations can now afford to be picky about who they hire. And they’re willing to wait for the purple squirrel.

This increased need for purple squirrels — a nickname coined by human resource specialists — is a result of the massive job cuts that accompanied the recent recession. To compensate for smaller staffs, organizations began asking their remaining staff to take on the responsibilities of the employees they lost.

The result has been the creation of positions that require a broader range of skills than they did in the past. Now many job seekers are finding that the skills they possess are no longer on par with those of positions they held just a few years ago.

According to a report released last year by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), “The modern economy requires workers with higher skills than in the past.”

The report goes on to recognize that “while many good, middle-class jobs in the past required only proficiency in well-defined tasks, the U.S. labor market has been moving toward jobs that require skills that enable workers to flexibly complete tasks that are uncertain and interactive.”

Many job seekers are taking note. They’re searching for new ways to gain the skills necessary to reclaim their place in the workforce. They’re evolving into purple squirrels.

One emerging skill-gaining trend has been continuing education and training.

“While it is widely known that there is a positive gain to attending a four-year college, it is less well known that other forms of post-secondary schooling provide similar returns,” the CEA reports.

Those who have discovered the value of continued education and training are expected to have an easier time finding a high-paying position that will experience growth in the next six years.

“These educational requirements reflect a need for highly skilled workers who can perform complex, ever-changing tasks,” the CEA reports. “The occupational demands of the future are expected to require skills obtained through post-secondary education and training.”

The CEA also reports that organizations that require their employees to complete additional training and education are growing faster than those who require no additional training. And it seems organizations are catching on, waiting patiently for the perfect candidate. This should come as no surprise to the unemployed who are trying to live up to the expectations of the purple squirrel.

“It seems that at least half of my clients are actually looking for Purple Squirrels now,” Mason writes on her blog. “With the economy problems and companies being cautious with hiring, these searches are becoming more and more the rule rather than the exception.”

The CEA concludes its report by subtly urging American workers to seek additional training to ensure a brighter economic future.

“Although we cannot predict with certainty what the jobs of the future will be,” says the report, “the evidence strongly suggests that high quality education and training is the best way to prepare the workers of today for the jobs of tomorrow.”

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