The challenge and opportunity of underemployment

The unemployment rate makes the headlines, but the level of underemployment is often treated more as a footnote.Underemployment is that other insidious employment consequence of the Great Recession, whereby workforce talent is not functioning to full capacity. It represents unrealized potential, leaving our nation lacking in productivity and many individuals discouraged. And worst of all, it looks as if it’s going to be around for quite some time.There is a range of forms that underemployment can take. Evident are situations in which employees find themselves in jobs for which they weren’t initially educated and aren’t about to leave during the recession for fear they won’t find something else. Similarly, there are many jobs being occupied by the unsatisfied and unhappy who are marking time until the economy again allows for greater job-shifting. Underemployment also is seen among much of the part-time job workforce, and even in the case of furloughs, where management and sometimes rank-and-file decide that furloughs are better than layoffs.Whereas it’s very tough trying to develop a career when unemployed, it can be almost as challenging doing so when underemployed. But for many in New Hampshire, facing the prospect of months if not years of underemployment is going to be affecting the career growth of a significant portion of an otherwise prolific state workforce.Keep searchingManagement at many of the state’s firms has been learning to do more with less, as is typical during economic down times. Achieving and maintaining efficiency without over-resourcing can be widely expected as modus operandi by executives for the immediate future. Even as orders pick up it’s reasonable to expect that increased hiring will be slow at best. Given that less-than-rosy scenario, the question for the underemployed is how to best strategize career growth from this point forward.In a word, adaptability. Accepting that the dream career may not be in reach in the short term does not have to be cause for depression and paralysis. In fact, career can still be expressed, if not practiced, even when it’s not in full-time employment mode.Professionalism involves much more than just doing a job. It also means continually keeping current with trends and best practices. Online studying of one’s chosen industry to see where successes and strengths lie, which may be indicators of future opportunities can still be done. Maintaining and perhaps building one’s network of industry contacts can help one feel that they’re still in the game. Using time that under better conditions may be used on the job could now be used in furthering education, training, and even volunteering one’s expertise so as to keep skills honed and improved. Doing any or all of the above can also fill the dreaded gaps in a resume that are to be avoided.Think of how much more confident one could be in a future interview being able to say how quality-driven his or her down time was spent by their passionate and resolute perpetuation of professionalism.And as difficult as it may be, never give up on a well-structured job search. Job-searching is your other job when you’re underutilized. That better position will come sooner than later if an aggressive industry employment search is maintained. However, it has to be accepted that stepping incrementally toward that best-case job is a strong possibility during the slow build-up of the state’s economy.Working part-time and/or temporarily acknowledging compromised positions will for many be part of the strategy for returning to or ultimately achieving a desired career. Practicing adaptability necessarily means exercising flexibility, compromise, astute decision-making and summoning strength of character. The measure of our resolve comes not during the flush times, but during the most challenging ones. And the test of that is now.
Bill Ryan, founder of Ryan Career Services LLC, Concord, can be reached at 603-724-2289 or