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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This week, we are exploring the role of human capital in what's proved to be a very slow economic recovery. Right now, employers are actually trying to fill millions of jobs. And in some cases, they're having trouble, despite the fact that 15 million Americans are looking for jobs.

NPR's Wendy Kaufman examines the mismatched between the skills employers need and the skills job seekers have to offer.

WENDY KAUFMAN: In this economy, few professions have been hit harder than architects. In Seattle alone, thousands of them are out of work. Gary Barber, who's been a practicing architect for 30 years, is one of them.

Mr. GARY BARBER (Architect): I know everything that there is to know about building a building, from your garage in your backyard to a high-rise in downtown Seattle. I've got that experience base, that skill set. And anything that's relating to that environment, I love to do.

KAUFMAN: But theres not much demand for new houses or commercial buildings, and that means not much demand for architects or crane operators or escrow officers. There are fewer jobs in other parts of the economy too think travel agents, newspaper reporters and mid level managers. As Ed Bealieu, president of West Coast Careers, a recruiting and staffing company puts it, the skills job applicants have often dont match what employers are looking for.

Mr. ED BEALIEU (President, West Coast Careers): So now youve got a segment of the population that doesnt have a chair to sit in, if you will.

KAUFMAN: Many of the chairs now being filled are in highly technical and specialized fields. And it's not that easy to go from being say, an architect, to a software engineer or from an escrow officer to an airplane mechanic.

Mr. GLENN COOK (Director of staffing, Boeing): My name is Glenn Cook, I'm the director of staffing for Boeing. And we're standing overlooking Boeing Field which is our delivery center for the 737, and we are in the process of ramping up production.

KAUFMAN: That means lots of new jobs for machinists, and engineers. Cook says Boeing added more than 5,000 jobs this year, and expects to add twice that many next year.

Mr. COOK: What we really want to do is bring in folks that have experience so they can hit the ground running and really help us immediately.

KAUFMAN: You hear that refrain a lot from employers. And Peter Capelli, a management expert at the University of Pennsylvanias Wharton School, says you didnt used to.

Mr. PETER CAPELLI (Management Expert, University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School): You know, a generation ago you'd never expect that somebody could come into a reasonably skilled sophisticated position in your organization and immediately make a contribution. Thats a brand new demand.

KAUFMAN: And for those on the sidelines without a job, a troubling one. Hiring managers are under enormous pressure to make sure the people they bring in are the very best. So they're less likely to take risks, less likely to say hey, this guy's skills arent a perfect match, but he looks like a quick study, let's give him a try.

Career Coach Matt Youngquist has seen highly talented individuals get stymied, because although they had 20 years of experience and fabulous references, they didnt have a college degree.

Mr. MATT YOUNGQUIST (CEO, Career Horizons): I had a woman, one of the sharpest H.R. minds Ive ever me - and I know a lot of them - that lack of a degree, that little checkbox blocked her from a year's worth or jobs that she was trying to get, because companies just wouldnt compromise; or, because she couldnt get to the person that could actually evaluate her skills properly.

KAUFMAN: In fact companies may decide to leave jobs unfilled if they can't find exactly what they are looking for. But while companies have become a lot pickier, the unemployed sometimes sabotage themselves. Youngquist, the CEO of Career Horizons, says some job hunters are living in the past, turning down jobs because they think theyre worth more than employers are willing to pay.

Mr. YOUNGQUIST: I think a lot of the people really having trouble right now you know, are thinking what they made this last five - 10 years is normal, when in fact, it might have been inflated. And no one wants to take a pay cut. But yes, some people have to be more adaptable.

KAUFMAN: Theres one more thing worth mentioning: the impact of extended unemployment benefits. Some observers suggest that human capital is being wasted when people dont even bother to look for jobs because theyre getting benefits. For all these reasons and more, millions of people remain unemployed. Ever the optimist, Architect Gary Barber is exploring the possibility of transferring his skills to a new field. Right now, he doesn't know exactly what he'll do, but hes restless and eager to be back to work.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.

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MONTAGNE: Tomorrow our series continues with a look at companies that are hiring, but don't want to hire the long-term unemployed.

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MONTAGNE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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