You'd think that when the national unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent it would be easy for employers to find qualified job candidates. The weird thing is it's not, and the reasons are pretty interesting.

Help WantedWriting at HREonline, Peter Cappelli, the George W. Taylor Professor of Management and director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School, explains how employers think during times of excessive employee supply. "There are two explanations for the stories about employers not being able to fill jobs even in this deep recession," he writes, "and they have nothing to do with a shortage of skills."

The first relates to the fact that searching through candidates always makes sense and perhaps is even more worthwhile when there are more of them. Suppose you needed a date for the prom, and your fairy godmother suddenly lined up 12 very attractive candidates ... You'd check them all out, and the more there were, the longer it would take to do so. This explains why vacancies persist even in a recession. It doesn't make sense to snap up the first candidate who meets the job requirements when others are standing right there. In fact, it may make sense just to go fishing, to see if you can get someone who is really overqualified for the position (i.e., get them at a below market price) if you can wait a bit to fill the job.

And the second reason?

(It) has to do with the nature of the jobs that employers find hard to fill. I've taken a look at some of the accounts of these jobs - there aren't many of these positions - and at least among the ones I've seen reported, they are never entry-level jobs. There is no shortage of people with the appropriate education credentials for any jobs I've seen. The skills that are in short supply are work-based skills, the kind that are only learned on the job: A generation ago, these jobs would have always been filled from within. Now employers want to hire these people on the open market, in other words, from their competitors. But when everyone wants to do this - poof! - such  candidates are hard to find.

 Plenty of food for thought if you're job hunting nowadays.

 -- Don Willmott