Current Affairs

The Unemployable Problem

Big news out of Washington D.C. recently. The unemployment rate fell to its lowest mark since February 2009, 8.5%. That’s good news if your a president in an election year.

But others would be quick to point out that 8.5% unemployment is still too high. Yet, I have to wonder. What percentage of Americans are unemployed because they are unemployable?

The other day, I took our kids to the local park for a picnic and to soak in some free vitamin D from the flaming ball which hangs in the January San Diego sky. It was a sunny, breezeless, quiet day at the park. With most kids back at school and parents back to work the park was fairly empty of the dozens of screaming toddlers on the slides and mom’s chatting on the sidelines experienced during the week before.

It was our family and a pile of random stragglers each there for their own reasons.

One man and his friend watched a little boy as they smoked weed and talked about how weed hasn’t hurt them a bit. In the same conversation they talked about their inability to find a job but apparently lacked the cognitive ability to recognize that smoking weed at a public park at 1 o’clock in the afternoon while a toddler plays under your care is as good a reason to not hire a person for a job as any other.

A young woman sat on a bench near me and talked on the phone while her daughter tumbled up and down the ladder of the slide alone. She cried, literally, to a friend about how her mom wouldn’t give her $100 to pay her cable bill. In the same conversation she lamented to her friend about not being able to find a job anywhere.

Moments later a nanny arrived with 3 toddlers. In San Diego it’s fairly normal to see a middle-aged Hispanic woman caring for 3 little white kids. I could be wrong in making that assumption, because they could have been her children I suppose, but they looked to be children she watched. She oversaw an orderly march to and from the park, the distribution of snacks and jackets, and she maintained order as they played in the sand and later helped them take turns on the swings.

So there I sat, basking in the sunlight of this irony. 4 adults at the park with very different American experiences. 3 unemployed and relatively unemployable young adults wasting every legal opportunity they have for the advancement of their life. And 1 employed, legally unemployable middle-aged woman, exhibiting professionalism and investing in the advancement of her life.

Mike Rowe is right, you know?

We have an educational system that has created a massive hole in the job market. It’s not just in my industry that there is a gap in qualified people. It’s in the trades, as well. (Read more: College isn’t for everyone)

Christian Living

5 Ways Your Church can be Good News to Unemployed Young Adults

A Bureau of Labor Statistics report released Wednesday said 745,000 more job seekers between 16 and 24 years old were unemployed from April to July. That compares with an increase of 571,000 among the same age group last summer.

In July, the share of young people who were employed was 48.8%, marking a record low for the second straight year. July is traditionally the peak month for summertime employment. Another Summer Chill for Youth Employment- USAToday, August 24th 2011

Photo by London Permaculture via Flickr (Creative Commons)

If I do the math correctly this means 51.2% of Americans between the ages of 16-24 don’t have a job. Half of people 16-24, when they are physically strongest and most able to work… can’t find a job.

You can’t care about the youth of America and not wonder what you can do. You individually. You as a leader in the church. And you as an advocate for the young adults in your community. You can do something. You have to do something.

We live in a post-Christian society. Young adults have heard of the church. They likely know who Jesus is. But, in many cases, they won’t have anything to do with Jesus or the church because both seem irrelevant. In short, before they are willing to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ they need to know that the Gospel really is good news for them. If you can help them find employment– that’s good news.

Here’s 5 ways you can be Good News to unemployed youth in your community

  1. Start a childcare fund for single parents in your church struggling financially. One of the biggest challenges a single parent faces is consistent and affordable childcare. (Affordable doesn’t mean free.) If you set up a fund to employ 3-4 people through your church to either watch children in their homes or to set-up a 10 small daycare facility in your church, you’d be surprised how easy funding could come together. This would help single parents and it would help the young adults you’d hire to run the program. (There’s Federal/State grant money available for this kind of thing as well. Ask a librarian for help.)
  2. Sponsor a local grant for small businesses in your community to offset the cost of hiring part-time help between the ages of 16-24. One of the best motivators you could offer to small business owners in your community is a grant to offset some of the costs of employing a person. Work with your local Chamber of Commerce to help get the word out, pitch the concept to business people in your church, and ask your congregation to rally behind the fund. Keep it simple. If a small business hires a qualifying young adult, you verify that they worked 500 hours, you award the employer $2,000.
  3. Host job readiness seminars in your church. While the unemployment rate is shocking, equally shocking is the amount of young adults who are unemployable. Partner with Junior Achievement, the Chamber, and other like-minded local community organizations to put together a series of helpful seminars for job readiness. Teach the basics like, interview skills, resume` building, work expectations, etc. (Again, there’s grant money out there for this kind of thing.)
  4. Hire someone in your home. We’ve just completed our second summer of having a regular, summer babysitter. Last summer we hired someone full-time who also lived in our home. We found that was a bit too much for us, so this summer we “shared” a full-time babysitter with another family in our church. No, we couldn’t afford it. But this sacrifice was worth it– and helped us out a ton. Maybe you don’t need childcare? Hire someone to do yard work or complete the projects around the house you’ve wanted to do but can’t find the time.
  5. Start a job pool. A church is a great connecting point. If you acted as a connecting point between people looking for work and people who need work done, you could help a lot of people. More than simply having a job board… Set-up a simple screening process, set work expectations like timeliness and appearance, and coordinated both supervision and payment between people in the community who need work done and young adults looking to do work. If that’s too much work for your staff to handle ask a business person in the congregation or members of the local Chamber of Commerce to sponsor a 10 hour per week position from May – September to coordinate.
Will you commit to helping find employment for people ages 16-24 in the next 12 months? 
Church Leadership

Level of Difficulty

Does your skill level match the level of difficulty in your ministry?

I’ll admit it. I’m a recovering video game junky. Up until Madden 2005 I used to incessantly play anything football EA Sports produced.

One of the fun things about the Madden games is that you can adjust the level of difficulty to match your skill level in the game. So, if you were new, you could set it to easy and still have a good time. Then, theoretically, as your skills improved you could turn the game up so that it remained challenging.

One of the great injustices in the ministry world is that there is often a disconnect between the skill level of a staff member and the level of difficulty in a ministry setting.

In general, those who have a low skill level (new to ministry) are only able to get jobs in ministry locations labeled difficult or expert. Meanwhile, veteran church workers tend to flow towards jobs on larger teams in healthier ministries where the level of difficulty is significantly better matched to their skill level. (Not easy, per se. But ministries which match their skill level.)

In the past few years I’ve had countless conversations with pastors in way, way over their head. They’ve been in ministry a short amount of time and are in situations with no support, politics leaning hard against them, and socially isolated from people who think like them. They slump their shoulders as we sit down for breakfast, “Adam, am I crazy? Why does serving Jesus hurt this bad?

Why are these people hurting?

Because they are in ministry settings where the level of difficulty is a miss-match.

The Way it Works

We have a Darwinian approach to ministry jobs. Our church culture dictates that the newest, greenest, and least capable among us serve at the gnarliest of ministry sites. A youth pastor takes her first time job, replacing a youth pastor fired for sleeping with a student. A worship pastor hired from a larger church to lead a ministry from traditional worship to contemporary. A senior pastor right out of seminary replaces a long-tenured wise owl who retired after 40 years of successful ministry. A children’s worker will accept a calling to a church plant where they have to go out and raise their support while somehow trying to create a children’s program from scratch.

All expert level ministry jobs performed by newbie staff members. They don’t stand a chance.

A large majority of these newbies will get washed out of their first jobs in the first 2-3 years. Battered and bruised, about half will lick their wounds and find non-ministry vocations before they’ve even paid off their seminary loans.

Yet, a small minority will learn their lessons from these impossible ministry situations and move to more healthy levels of difficulty. Eventually, through survival of the fittest, a small minority manage to work their way into roles that are matched with their skill level… or maybe a little mismatched so that they are in jobs significantly easy compared to their skill level. (You know who you are.)

In other words, those of us with high levels of expertise gravitate to the easier jobs while our success in roles made to look easy encourages countless others into the flames of despair at the hard jobs.

The Way it Ought to Work

Ministry experts should flow to the expert level jobs. Jobs in healthy ministries should hire more newbies for shorter periods of time in order to increase their skill level and help match them with jobs that best suit their long-term skill level and interest.

This would perpetrate a mantra of healthy churches helping unhealthy ones instead of visa versa.

But that would be too much like right.