Guest Column: Not many jobs in this closed society

By John Russell Ghrist

  The mayor thinks that creating jobs is important for the city. After all, if one does not have any income, how can they “live it up” downtown in the River District, or patronize anything else around here? At press time, the U.S. Congress is in the process of passing new legislation that would give tax breaks for companies that hire the unemployed. The unemployment rate is really more than 20 percent in the area and does not count people who have given up looking for work or who are underemployed.

  Depending on which so-called financial “expert” one subscribes to, times are supposed to be getting better. But there are still many people out of work in this city who have not had jobs in a long time. By jobs, I mean good jobs, like ones that allow a person to pay a mortgage, drive a reliable car and put food on the table. Minimum-wage gimmick jobs do not change lifestyles.

  Everyone blames the economy for the lack of good employment, but the problem goes much deeper than that. If one is not an “insider” in this city, there is no way he or she will ever get a good job here even in better times.

  I have lived in Rockford for almost 10 years, and it did not take me very long to figure out that this city is a closed society and does not like new residents coming here to compete for the few available opportunities that exist in this community.

  Before “Blago the Clown” and his cronies took my state job that I had for 19 years at IDOT, I had a good career going and was able to buy a small condo in Rockford. When I lost my job because of rotten politics in 2004, I submitted résumés and was in pursuit of a similar occupation here. I talked with city and county people who could make hiring decisions, but they chose other people for their openings.

  I worked at dead-end, part-time jobs. At one place, they used my hours to fill holes in their schedule so that they would not have to hire a full-time person. When something did open up, the job was given to an insider’s friend.

  At another place, I used my media skills, experience and education and did a good job. When I was let go because of budget problems, I was asked if I wanted to continue to do the same work as a volunteer.

  Speaking of volunteering, there are lots of those kinds of free jobs in this city. There are also people getting paid big bucks to keep the volunteer hours high and their bottom line low… I have done plenty of volunteer duty in this city, and none of it has led to a job, just more requests for more freebie work for places that never intend to hire any staff. It is OK to volunteer. I have a good heart and enjoy helping others, but volunteer jobs do not pay the bills.

  It is easy to see who gets the available jobs around here. The city’s chamber publication always includes many of those postage-stamp size photos of young people moving ahead and getting all the promotions. These are the individuals who drive nice cars, and the bad economy will never affect them. They get all the attention, awards and pats on the back. The chamber courts these types of individuals and in its publication has encouraged more young people to move here. What about those who already live in this city and need a job? I have made suit-and-tie cold calls on businesses and have seen employees with their feet up on their desks or playing with their cell phone instead of working. They are lucky to even have a job. Getting a position in the media has also been fruitless. The young people get all those opportunities, too…

  The chamber also gets excited when a new company wants to move to Rockford. However, any good jobs already belong to the firm’s present employees who have been relocated here. And those job fairs? They are just PR ploys from businesses that want to look good in the community, but really do not have any open positions. I have wasted lots of my time at those worthless events. In addition, the job counselors that I have spoken with are useless and have little contact with reality. They would not even have a job if so many of us were not out of work. The crummy jobs that they sometimes recommend are things that they would not even consider doing themselves.

  If someday, a flood of stimulus money comes around, or the economy improves enough to create ample well-paying jobs, there will still be problems. The attitudes of company executives and human resource directors must change. Just because they may not personally know an applicant does not mean that someone is a bad worker or not the right fit for their operation. If a firm merely hires somebody’s friend in the company, are they really getting the best employee?

  There are plenty of qualified people roaming the streets, in line at the food pantry, or getting unemployment checks, that could easily handle most jobs in this community. The only difference is that we do not personally know anyone on the inside who will give us a chance.

  The times are probably gone when all it took to get hired was to remove the “help wanted” sign that was dangling in the front window of a store, present it to the manager and say, “I’m your man or woman for the job.” Now it’s clandestine Web sites, résumés that are screened by computers and not real people, paid headhunters, phony want ads, job scams, and constant nepotism that keeps good and well-qualified people from getting hired.

  Things are bad enough in this economy without all the shenanigans that qualified people must endure to get back to work and provide for themselves and their families.

  An applicant might have a well-written résumé and a stack of reference letters to show a prospective employer. They might have years of great experience and a clean work record. But if the person is a little bit older, or does not personally know anyone on the inside, the chances of getting hired in this city are zilch.

          John Russell Ghrist is a local resident who hosts a radio show, Everyday People, on WTPB LP 99.3FM.

From the March 17-23, 2010 issue

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