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Because of the pandemic, millions of lost jobs in the U.S. are not filled yet. While there are reports of labor shortages in many sectors, a large percentage of workers say they are looking for a new job. For some without a bachelor's degree, job prospects were bleak even before the pandemic. As part of our "Work Shift" series, Paul Solman looks at a program that is offering better opportunities.
Well, the pandemic has made this a most unusual time in the labor market. Millions of lost jobs are not yet filled.
And yet, still, there are reports of labor shortages in many sectors and a large percentage of workers who say they are looking for a new job. For some without a bachelor's degree, job prospects were bleak even before the pandemic.
Paul Solman looks at a program that is offering better opportunities.
It's latest in our Work Shift series.
Adquena Faine's last job before the pandemic, driving for Uber and Lyft in Virginia.
I was driving so much, I would lay down and try to take a nap or go to sleep, and I still felt the vibrations of the car.
No time or money to finish college, barely able to feed her daughter and pay for a hotel room after foreclosure on their home, food for herself.
Before I got on the road to drive, I would stop and forage in the woods or like on the side streets.
You were actually foraging for food at some point? I have never heard that before.
People will stop and ask, what are you doing? And I'm like, oh, nothing, because I don't want anybody to start coming to pick my food.
In Louisiana, Jennifer Burgess went straight from high school to dog training.
For 15 years, I have actually trained over 10,000 dogs.
And so how much money did you make there?
On my best year ever, maybe 28.
Twenty eight thousand dollars?
My best year ever.
Mariana Perez was 20 when she emigrated from Mexico in 2005, without a high school degree or even any English, spent nine years working in a North Carolina nail salon.
I used to work 60 to 70 hours a week.
Sixty to 70?
I had no benefits. We don't have any vacation pay. So, if you don't work, you don't earn money.
On the plus side, however:
I miss some of my clients. They were very, very nice people.
I love working with dogs.
But the pay?
I went from $6.10 an hour to $11.25 an hour over 15 years.
Two problems have plagued the U.S. economy for decades now, income inequality and young folks not working at all. Low pay for those with just high school or less is an obvious explanation.
Byron Auguste, President and Co-Founder, Opportunity@Work: Sixty percent of Americans in the work force today do not have bachelor's degrees.
But, asks economist Byron Auguste:
Why is there such a difference in earnings between people who are college graduates and people who are not in this country?
It's simply not the case that not having a bachelor's degree means that you don't have skills to contribute. Thirty million today have the skills, based on the work they're doing, for jobs that pay at least 50 percent more than the jobs they're in.
Meanwhile, employers are begging for employees, boasting $20 an hour, where once $15 was thought magnanimous. But $20 an hour is barely $40,000 a year.
These are the computers.
OK, time for one more player in this story, IBM, once the icon of high tech in America.
These machines are things of gleaming, varicolored metal and numerous flashing lights.
Selling and servicing huge computers, Big Blue and its big machines were attacked by little Apple with its mini Mac back in 1984. IBM was worth 30-something times the value of Apple as a company back then. Today, Apple is worth 16 times as much as IBM.
And yet IBM has survived by cutting costs drastically, including layoffs, changing its business, outsourcing, and it still employs 350,000 people worldwide.
Here in the U.S., however, it finds itself competing for talent witness the trendier Apples, Googles and start-ups.
So, Kelli Jordan spearheads IBM's new collar initiative.
Back in 2016, we really started looking at how we could fill roles that we had just struggled to fill in other ways.
Just saying you don't require a bachelor's degree brought in a whole new slate of candidates that we never would have uncovered.
And you knew this was coming, right? The new collar candidates are folks like Faine, Burgess, Perez, and, in New York, Ray Rodriguez, who spent 11 years working his way up to assistant store manager at a big drugstore chain.
I used to make $46,000 a year, and then it dropped down to 40.
As you got promoted?
Right. It was salary. And then they changed it to hourly.
But that wasn't the worst of it.
Oh, my God. When I walked in the bathroom one day, I seen feces everywhere. It's like, how do you get it on the wall? And then there's a couple of times where people passed out in the bathroom.
Shooting up. And we got to call the paramedics.
Rodriguez, supporting a family, was desperate to get out of retail.
I used to always picture people with their 9:00-to-5:00 jobs, weekends off. They don't got to work nights. There was times where I would have to work overnights as well. And I was always like, oh, I wish I could have a job like that.
Well, why couldn't you get out?
Without a degree it seemed like everywhere else was the same.
And then he heard of IBM's electronics lab apprenticeship, applied, got an interview.
Were you scared?
Yes, I was scared. This is a dream job. The 9:00 to 5:00 that I have been dreaming about for years and years, this is what I was looking for.
So what was it about these folks that got them into IBM?
Things like a growth mind-set, that willingness to constantly challenge and put themselves out there, take that little bit of a risk and build their skills on a very regular basis.
The rapid advance of IBM technology.
IBM is trading on its long history of training its employees to scale up its apprenticeships, investing $65 million, as well as plenty of federal money, into earn-while-you-learn programs that usually segue into permanent jobs.
The company says at least half its U.S. jobs no longer require a bachelor's degree. But, for those without one, even applying can be a challenge.
Take Faine's online interview for her apprenticeship.
So, I had this old laptop that is decrepit and kind of takes an hour to start up, to boot up. When I try to do the Webex, it fails.
I'm crying. Like, tears are pouring out of my eyes. This was my shot, and I just blew it.
Burgess had a similar snafu.
On my way to the IBM interview, my car actually died on side of the road. And my parents had to come and help me, because it overheated. And then I get to the interview and it dies in the garage.
And I have to, in heels and a dress, push it into the parking spot.
And all these folks were intimidated by the name IBM.
In my mind, IBM is this big computer company, white men, suit and tie, carrying around a briefcase, business-savvy with all of the technical jargon.
This is for the B-7000 8.2.
But look who's talking technical now.
Can anybody learn to do what you do?
I think anybody with the drive to can.
It doesn't matter what you are or your background is. It doesn't mean that your brain can't do it.
Now go ahead and walk forward.
Despite her canine credentials, Jennifer Burgess is now a project manager, or maybe it's because of them.
It's very similar to dog training, because it's about training the humans to be able to do what you need them to do.
When they are good, though, you need to give some form of reward.
Give folks like this a chance, and there are hidden bonuses for the employer, lower pay than the highest-priced talent, higher loyalty.
Because they gave me the opportunity that other people did not.
I'm not going anywhere. Did you not hear where I came from?
And with that, a final warning to those of you in corporate America from Byron Auguste.
We hear about labor shortages. We hear about skills shortages. We hear about a war for talent.
If you overlook half the talent pool in the United States, that is not a good talent strategy. And serious, smart companies are realizing that an enormous opportunity is among those that do not have bachelor's degrees.
For the "PBS NewsHour," Paul Solman in North Carolina.
Watch the Full Episode
Paul Solman has been a business, economics and occasional art correspondent for the PBS NewsHour since 1985.
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