T@W Weekly: Tech Woes Hurt Unemployed

COBOL programmers wanted, essential vs. non-essential, and everything else from this week

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If you know anyone filing for unemployment at this time, you know that the massive amount of people filing all at once has created headaches. The crush of applicants has crashed systems across the country running a (relatively) ancient mainframe language. The Verge covers the crux of the issue:

Colorado — like most states and territories across the country — is experiencing record unemployment numbers. But the state’s unemployment system is built on aging software running on a decades-old coding language known as COBOL. Over the years, COBOL programmers have aged out of the workforce, forcing states to scramble for fluent coders in times of national crisis.

A survey by The Verge found that at least 12 states still use COBOL in some capacity in their unemployment systems. Alaska, Connecticut, California, Iowa, Kansas, and Rhode Island all run on the aging language. According to a spokesperson from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the state was actually only a month or two away from “migrating into a new environment and away from COBOL,” before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

A lack of investment in technology in states has left them scrambling at a crucial time. This is even more problematic as states are coming off of years of record revenue.

The warning for HR leaders here is two-fold:

  1. Modernization is easy to put off until it's not. By then, it's too late.

  2. For those still reliant on mainframe languages, have a ready talent pool that can still help you until you are off them completely.

COBOL programmers are going to be in high demand again, at least in the short term.

Quick Hits

  • Half of the companies in a recent survey don't plan to make adjustments to salaried or hourly staff, with 22% already taking staffing actions. [Pearl Meyer]

  • Remote job openings rose 28% in March with a 42% increase in search volume for remote listings. We can expect more of the same for April. [LinkedIn]

  • Online learning has increased significantly. A recent survey found a 135% increase in online learning logins, with increased search traffic for stress relief and work from home tips. [Cornerstone]

  • Less than a third of companies have posted a statement on their careers site or updated candidate communications in light of COVID-19. Candidates need reassurance from employers now. [exaqueo]

  • While 60% of employers have a set of core values, more than 15% of employees say they aren't upheld and 43% say they are followed somewhat closely. Have to do better, especially now. [iHire]

  • Just 42% of employees say their company does a good job of communicating with employees but when employees feel like their employer is open, they are 12x more likely to be engaged. [alight]

  • Need to measure and understand engagement in times like now? This survey and toolkit is a good place to start by focusing on the smallest set of drivers. [Achievers]

  • Millennials vs. Boomers? 30% of younger employees say they are being held back by an older colleague while more than half of Baby Boomers are worried a younger colleague will take their job. [Olivet]

The Essential vs. Non-essential Emotional Divide

While essential employees work hard to keep people safe and well — from healthcare and public safety workers on the frontlines of this crisis to so-called second responders in the food and essential goods distribution chain — another group is feeling a little insulted.

The Chicago Sun-Times covered the mixed feelings that come with being labeled non-essential:

Are you essential or non-essential?

Actually, it’s only your job that has been placed into one of those two categories by the stay-at-home orders issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in response to the coronavirus.

But in a society in which we derive so much of our personal identity and self-worth from our work and how we earn a living, that can feel like a distinction without a difference.

Most everyone would probably like to believe they are essential in at least some small way or another to the endeavors to which they devote themselves — and therefore essential to the larger society.

Others, like HR expert and consultant Laurie Ruettimann, have tweeted a more straightforward message that we shouldn't be putting as much of our worth into work as we do:

It's not always easy, especially for HR leaders. Still, now is probably not the time to sweat whether you're essential to society in the midst of a pandemic. After all, being essential to your employer might be more important today because at least you keep your paycheck. With booming unemployment, that's a good thing.

Cheers, Lance