There are 28 million hidden workers according to the Harvard Business Project on Managing the Future of Work.

Adrienne Selko

APR 05, 2021

If you are like me, you struggle with understanding how so many jobs are going unfilled, and yet there are so many people out of work.

Joseph Fuller, who is a co-chair of the Project on Managing the Future of Work at Harvard Business School, points out in an article in the Harvard Business Review published in June of 2019, that employers posted 7.3 million job openings, while almost 12 million working-age Americans were unemployed or underemployed.

Companies, it turns out, are not looking at talent sources that are right in the front of their eyes. Many of those who are unemployed, or underemployed are “hidden workers” says Fuller and his co-authors. “They are a talent pool in plain sight with the potential to be hired, but for one reason or another are unable to make the transition into the workforce.”

While there are a number of barriers to people finding employment, one of the overriding reasons seems to be that this population doesn’t fit the profile of what he calls a “perfect candidate”.  So, they don’t even get to the interview stage and often get frustrated and abandon the search for work entirely. To get an understanding of the size of this hidden market, Fuller’s research showed that 28 million fit this category in 2019.

It’s not as difficult as it might seem. “What is required is a shift in attitude,” says Fuller. “Instead of filtering out those who do not fit, companies need to focus on who has the skills they urgently need.” Fuller offers some examples of different types of long-term unemployed and discouraged workers:

He asks companies to consider hiring several different types of long-term unemployed and discouraged workers in these economies:

  • Veterans, who have many of the skills that are in high demand — from underwater welding to emergency nursing care — but who are not hired in civilian jobs because they lack the necessary licenses.
  • Caregivers — most of them women, but also men — are forced to drop out of full-time and part-time work because they are needed at home to provide childcare, eldercare, or both.
  • The formerly incarcerated or recovered substance abusers who do not even get past the application stage.
  • Those with health issues — physical or mental — are often pre-judged and not considered for positions.
  • Older workers bring experience and skills but are considered an expensive burden.
  • Immigrants and refugees who have credentials from their home countries but struggle to get hired because they lack language skills.

Maybe the first step toward a solution is to understand the unique situations and work toward finding ways to adjust to a variety of circumstances. It’s is my fervent hope that in the very near future, as a society we are able to harness the abundance of talent out there and put it toward creating a stronger and more inclusive economy.