THE POLITICS OF UNEMPLOYMENT
Juggled booksand hidebound bureaucracy seriously damage the best weapon we have against the human waste and enormous cost of rising unemployment. This is NES— the crippled giant that men and women without work turn to, far too often, in vain
IN 1940, faced with war. Mackenzie King with a stroke of his pen put every Canadian worker under the thumb of an all-powerful agency he blandly christened National Selective Service. That agency, renamed National Employment Service, still has a hand for better or for worse in the destinies of millions of Canadians. Its aim is unchanged: to raise output by putting our small population to full use — the real test of a nation’s efficiency.
That efficiency can be measured by the number of unemployed. Since 1960 unemployment has been running at close to seven percent year-round, three times more people arc out of work now than in the early Fifties. We're confronting our gravest challenge since the war. and NES, our central machinery for full employment, cannot cope with it.
NES reports that it gave technical training last year to more than 30,000 unemployed. It found jobs for 20.000 handicapped persons and 118,000 workers past the age of forty-five. It found summer jobs for 12.000 students, persuaded 6,000 “dropouts" to go back to school. It placed in all 1,400,000 people in jobs — by its own reckoning. If this figure were reliable, NES would be a success.
The figure is fictitious, padded, a wholesale falsification. It is padded by definition, by counting casual workers as placements — a day laborer placed two hundred times a year counts two hundred placements. It is padded by fraud — by employment officers pressured beyond belief to justify their jobs and their superiors. As the number of placements they make rises — on paper — they have less time for people. Every effort of Eabor Minister Michael Starr to improve the
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"NES hasn't got the better applicants so employers don’t give NES their better jobs"
service founders on inflexible rules and methods; on The System. Nowhere is frustration more rife than inside NES. And nowhere does frustration so damage our welfare.
Today Canada faces creative competition abroad: new trading blocs, new production methods and products. The unemployed are the casualties of our failure to compete: workers from outmoded industries, workers whose jobs have been lost to machines, teenagers born just after the war and now flooding into the labor force at three times the rate of former years. We need 250,000 new jobs a year and our unemployed are putting the brakes on expansion.
NES is — or should be — our most useful tool in the attempt to put these people to work. NES covers the country, sharing two hundred and fortyone offices with the Unemployment Insurance C ommission. Its eighteen hundred employment officers have a staggering assignment: to upgrade the entire labor force, to take people out of dead-end jobs, to train the unemployed, to guide students toward skills that industry wants. But before we show how The System stultifies these tasks, let us see how NES is failing the public, the government and industry-
NES OFFICERS VISIT high schools. School "drop-outs,” they point out, are doomed to the dole; jobs for skilled workers are going begging while unskilled workers in hundreds of thousands are lining up for unemployment insurance. When drop-outs come into NES offices looking for their first job, officers try to talk them back to school. Most important, they are charged with keeping vocational and high schools informed of the skills and schooling that students will need for the future.
They are charged with sponging up pools of unemployment. NES shifts workers from depressed areas to places where jobs are plentiful. It was NES that staffed U. S. armed forces bases in Newfoundland. the St. Lawrence Seaway project, the iron ore developments in Labrador. Often an unemployed worker refuses to leave. It is then the difficult job of an NES officer to persuade him. Last year. NES spent seventy-five thousand dollars moving workers. NES officers pick out unemployed workers for courses in stenography, drafting, welding, etc., which this vear will cost an estimated $9,500,000.
Guidance, relocating, retraining — these are vital long-term programs. And success requires information. What new equipment will jeopardize which jobs? Where arc the displaced workers? What should they be retrained for? Unless we can answer such questions we’ll be spending enormous sums to put better-schooled men and w'omen in out-of-work line-ups.
NES is the only organization whose day-to-day reports can give us the
picture of Canada's “jobography.” It gives us that picture only in vaguest outline. “NES figures simply don’t give us the information we need on guidance in the schools, or for retraining,” says Bob Craigs, research director for the Ontario Federation of Labor. “As Viscount Amory said, 'What they reveal is very nice. But what they conceal is dramatic.’ ”
NES cannot give us the information because it does not have it. Employers list too few jobs with our federal agency.
“NES NEEDS PRESTIGE,” says Labor Minister Starr. “It needs public acceptance.” As minister, one of Starr's first undertakings was an attempt to strengthen NES with such devices as a nation-wide teletype hookup, new buildings, higher pay for its staff, even its own letterhead.
Today, nearly six years later, the nation's largest employer, The Civil Service Commission, still makes little use of the government’s own hiring agency. It does its own advertising to fill job vacancies, spending $300,000 last year compared to the $180.000 spent by NES for the same purpose. It has fourteen offices for recruiting in cities serviced by NES. The commission sends its recruiting teams as far afield as Newfoundland to interview people who live a short walk from an NES office. Other government agencies and departments — with the exception of National Defense and the Post Office — make only token use of NES. A member of the Glassco Commission that investigated the civil service says: “If the government is going to sell its employment service outside it had better sell it inside first.” NES should be the easiest service to sell in the government. It draws from the nation’s largest pool of manpower. It stocks everything from day laborers to $25,000-a-year men. And yet, in the past ten years, in the face of free NES service, more than a hun-
dred and twenty-five private employment agencies have sprung up.
"A man’s a damn fool to use a private agency,” says NES Toronto manager John Devlin. "One employer paid a placement fee of a thousand dollars the other day for a man he could have got from us for nothing. Assuming a private agency charges ten percent for each placement, and that the average salary is $3,000 a year, in Toronto alone we saved employers $36,000,000 last year.”
Why do businessmen pay for a service they could get free? Maclean's asked this of fifty-five people in personnel work across Canada, a crosssection of industry. Eleven liked NES fine. Forty-four complained of the screening, of referrals that waste their time.
"I tried them three times,” says the head of an advertising agency. “I asked for a steno. They sent me a girl who couldn't type. I asked for a receptionist. They sent me a girl who had just come off a rest cure. ‘She’ll be O.K. if she's put on a quiet job,' they told me. Can you imagine? A quiet job in an advertising agency! The third person was a production man. I didn't hear from them for three weeks. Then they called and were going to send me someone without experience who wanted to get into advertising. I said I'd pretty well made up my mind by now but I’d see him anyway — I might have an opening a little later. He never showed up.”
"It depends what you want,” says the personnel man for a large industrial plant. "If the manager says, ‘Find five hundred bodies at so much an hour,’ NES is very handy. You don’t need any evaluation or personnel work. For good employees you have to be discriminating and the more discriminating you have to be the less useful NES is.”
Personnel men call NES a last resort. "A lot of skilled people never go near NES,” says Andrew Andras,
legislation director of the Canadian Labor Congress, “and a lot of white collar workers won't use them.”
"They don’t have the better applicants,” says a national merchandiser, “because we big employers don’t give them our better jobs. We don’t give them our better jobs because they haven’t got the applicants.”
THE REPUTATION OF NES rests with the men NES calls EOs, employment officers. An EO is expected to draw out and sum up applicants, judge them by looks, experience, training, education and personality. He’s supposed to keep in touch with employers, trade unions, associations and governments, advise them on labor conditions, training, apprenticeship, law, and new processes. He’s supposed to plan campaigns to fight unemployment, take surveys, make reports. He’s supposed to be. in short, a combined economist and psychologist.
He comes to work, in most NES bureaus, through an entrance crowded with derelicts, dirty, unshaven. Inside, on the first floor, the people lined up for unemployment insurance give even a well-lit bright-tiled office an air of shabbiness, like moth-eaten furniture in a new house.
The EO works in one of three divisions: Executive and Professional, which is just what it says; Special Placements, which handles students seeking their first jobs and handicapped people; and General Placements, the big one, split into sections: male and female, temporary and permanent, blue and white collar workers.
His "section” is a double row of desks jammed together in a big open room. Narrow aisles separate it from other sections. In front of him his customers wait on straight-backed wooden chairs: among them, in an office I visited recently, was an elderly Chinese lady and her interpreter, a well-dressed pregnant girl, a woman struggling vainly with her small child, and a group of laid-off factory workers. The room was filled with chatter in three tongues. The EO covers one ear while he talks on the telephone.
"Some days the telephone drives you mad,” says the EO I called on. “You're sitting interviewing. The phone rings. It's an employer. He’s got a vacancy. That’s important. You take the details. All the time the applicant’s sitting there at eighty-five degrees temperature getting sick of it all. I’ve had fellows say, ‘Maybe I’d better go outside and phone you.’ ”
“You finish your interview,” says an EO. “You’re supposed to assess the guy — complete his rating form. His livelihood, maybe his family, ride on your judgment. You look at the chairs and see four or five people waiting. They're going to think you’re just sitting there, ignoring them. So you put the form aside and later, in the washroom, you rack your brain to try to recall the guy.”
The EO is pressured by paperwork: forms for applicants, for employer’s orders, for weekly and monthly reports. Staffers refer to paperwork as “the NES winter works project.” On one employer’s order, sent to Toronto for filling, an NES officer counted two hundred and seventy-six pieces of
paper—letters, teletypes, wires. Employer relations officers have forms to account for carfare. Supervisors have forms to order forms. “You spend forty percent of your time channeling bits of paper." says an EO. "We haven’t time to do any matching (people and jobs) and I have to phone my applicants at night."
This is a man earning, himself. $4.360 to $4.800 a year, a shade more than the average worker in industry but less than some private employment agencies pay their best office girls. "I go out to call on employers in my beat-up old car and my fifty dollar suit." says one EO. 'He says. ’Em just going out to lunch ' I should say. 'Well, have lunch with me.’ But if you think I can do that on ninety dollars a week Eve got news for you."
Most of the present EOs joined as clerks in Selective Service days when the government took anyone it could get. Fewhave business experience: fewer still have been to university. Supervisors run morning training sessions but many of the supervisors are equally ill equipped. "They treat you like children.” says one new' EO, brought in to upgrade the service. "They don’t want new ideas." "If there is something in the NES manual which you believe is w'rong,” one supervisor tells new staffers, "there is something wrong w ith you.”
Despite the pressures, despite his own deficiencies, the EO is often a dedicated person. NES places about three hundred people a year from the West Indies and some have ended up living awhile in their EO’s apartment. Many a destitute worker gets the price of a meal from an EO. After meeting many. I have concluded that the EOs in general are conscientious. They want to do their job: but they are frustrated by The System.
ONE CANNOT TALK SHOP to any senior NE2S man for long without the word “control" coming up. "You have to have controls," says J. W. Temple, the Ontario regional director. "You have to control coffee breaks, quitting time, starting time. You have to have a yardstick for production.”
The NES yardstick for fifteen years has been a work measurement form called the 281. It gives “weights,” called points or credits, for making referrals or placements, writing employers’ orders or registering applicants. "Everyone lives by the 281," says an ex-supervisor. "You’re rated, raised, fired, promoted or transferred on the basis of your weights.” Section heads and office managers have to have weights to show' their need for new staff.
Alter the war NES had an increase in w'-ork that called for more statt. "You had to work yourself to death to get points to get more staff." says an official. “Then w'hen you got the staff you were expected to make more points." This began a relentless drive for statistics that has never stopped.
Year by year the quotas that build weights rise. "We were asked to make a ten percent increase in placements this year," says a veteran EO in Winnipeg. "Yet staff is down fifteen percent." The pressure for statistics is passed on down the line to the EO. a man already pressured beyond his
capacity. Caught in this dilemma, he pads his reports.
“POINTS, POINTS, POINTS, you’re hounded to get points." says an EO w'ho recenti) retired from the Executive and Professional Division. "My supervisor would say. '1 want to see a suitable referral on everyone on file.' You get a fair number of points for a referral, sending out an applicant. So either you send them out. suitable or not. or you write down their name on the back of the employer’s order card as having been sent when actually they never saw the employer. Of course, that gives you a bad ratio — referrals to placements — and you have to cover yourself. So you pad placements."
“In my section. Sales and Clerical." says an EO who quit last year, "you had to place half the people you sent out. You refer three or four and no results. That's going to get you a bad rating. So you go through your fourteen-day cards (people not on claim whose applications go dormant in two weeks), you get on the phone and find out who found jobs on their own. and you put them dow n as your placements. On a big order like Eaton's, who's to know?" It's a joke in one region that one month Eaton's hirings from all sources were less than NES records showed NES had placed there. Says a Western EO: “Eve seen employment officers write orders when a company phones and requests insurance books for men they've just hired." Says the manager of a brewery: “In Montreal they used to come around and get my list of people hired and mark them dowm as placements."
Employers keep no record of people hired through NES. Fraud can be discovered only by matching employer's order forms with employers able and willing to check them out. I did this with two orders noted at an NES office in Toronto. Both were phony.
Employer-relations men pad their records of visits to employers. "They're after you to get out in the morning and make sales." says one. “You’d be more use explaining employer's requirements to placement officers but no. it's make the calls, make the calls — they count points. Thirty calls in a week is reasonable but when the heat was on for placements they'd want fifty calls — and half a day on reports in the office. It's physically impossible and they know it. So you'll mark down a visit even if you only saw a steno. You’ll say to a general manager, ‘You don't want any help today, do you?' He says, 'no.' naturally, and you put him down for twenty minutes.”
“The manager who hired me," says a former employer-relations supervisor. "insisted upon a thousand calls a month to employers. If he was dowm on points at the end of the month, he'd stage a phone blitz. He really wasn't interested in whether people were hired. He wanted pieces of paper.”
Orders are padded. An employer phones in and orders three typists. The EO has three, but he tells the employer he only has one. would he change the order? The employer agrees, hires the girl. Then the EO calls him again. Another girl has come in. The employer hires her too. The
EO does this a third time — three orders instead of one. three times as many points.
In sections where placements are easy to come by. no padding is needed, and there are many EOs who refuse to pad. "But all things being equal." one says bitterly, "honesty is penalized. The EOs who get ahead are the ones who use the system. Then they don't stand up to pressure. They don’t back up their men."
"You don’t question the system." says an EO. "I used to fight it when I
was young but I lost more than I won." "So many have lost heart," another says. "They're afraid of being fired. They hang on, waiting for their pension. The good men get tired of lying and justifying, and quit.”
The system perpetuates itself. Increased quotas, on top of padded figures, require more padding. More paper work calls for more people, more supervisors. Statistics spiral. Selection suffers. The System, set up to keep people from cheating, ensures it. It panders to weakness in people
whose work has a built-in appeal to their strength.
EIGHTY PERCENT of the people who seek NES help are unemployed. Seventy percent of these have less than grade eight education. “Half of them you can’t help." says a former employment officer who quit NES last year. “But you're forced to interview everyone who comes in. Halfbaked individuals who jump from job to job. Rubbydubs who come in to get out of the cold. Ditch-diggers who can’t or won't do anything else. Sometimes you refer them just to get rid of them."
NES has a cardinal rule: refer only "suitable" applicants. But "suitable." when NES is a branch of the Unemployment Insurance Commission, is a highly contentious word. NES comes up with a job; the claimant accepts it or ret uses. He ceases, either way, to be a claimant for insurance unless he has good reason for turning the job down. A "suitable" job. to an employment officer, should he one that calls forth the applicant's highest skills. But an unemployment insurance officer may think any joh is suitable that gets a claimant off the insurance rolls.
I he Unemployment Insu r a n e e Commission's top brass, who run NES. claim the Commission supplies NES with job-seekers, and NES saves the fund millions of dollars. In fact, employers, nett let! by poor referrals, seldom co-operate by reporting people who don't want to work. As tor jobseekers — NES is clogged with the dregs of the manpower pool.
"We have to take them in the order they come in.” says an EO. " I here may be six unemployables and the seventh person is good, hut you have to see the six first and the seventh man gets disgusted and goes out and buys a newspaper. Ami he's the applicant we should be getting."
AS I ONG AS NES gets the discards — jobs and workers—the better people and jobs will go to the private placement agencies. "The private agencies only take people they can make money on. " says Bill Thomson, former Navy personnel chief, now director of Employment Service, a harassed hard-driving man who. in effect, runs NES. "You take a high school teacher. Sure, he takes pride in placing the top boy or girl in his class. But who's going to look after the kid at the bottom? Who's going to place the man with the scar on his mouth, the girl that stutters? Somebody has to— and very often we can."
It is a maxim of placement work that everyone can do something. Seymour Wolfbein, top manpower expert for the U. S. Dept, of Labor, cites the case of "unemployables" with an average IQ of 68. He found them jobs in restaurants, wiping lipstick off glasses before putting them into the automatic dishwasher.
Dav b\ day NES combats bias and prejudice. EOs send out a colored worker: "A nice hoy. ( lean and neat. No one else has got his qualifications.” Thev place ex-cons, working closely with the John Howard Society from the time the man is still in penitentiarv. They work with welfare agencies to help the disabled and aged.
"I went out on a call in Windsor one day," says Wes Peters, a NFS supervisor. “The employer said. C ome with me.' He took me through his shop, he made fishing tackle. Here were these old fellows working all alone, some without eyes and arms. One was eighty-two. ’Your people sold me on this.' the employer said. ‘You know I haven't a single person who isn't over-age or handicapped? I've never had such reliable employees.' "
I hese are some of the things an EX) can do—when he is able. Often, out of sy mpathy for the desperate and the forlorn, he tries to get jobs for people rather than people for jobs.
"An NFS officer will tell you that the applicant has had five years clerical experience." says the personnel director of a railroad. "He'll neglect to add that the applicant has had five years' experience spread over the past ten years and twenty different jobs. "
"We should try to please the employer." says a long-time EO. "We've heen taught to please the applicant." I he result: neither is pleased. Too often, the EO, pushed for statistics, is just going through the motions in his interviews. The job-seeker feels he has not got his story across. The EO can't give him details of the job ho is sending him to—and a job is the most important fact in the job-seeker's life. It determines how he lives, secures his marriage, looks after his children. From it he takes his sense of belonging and worth. Yet the NFS man expects him to buy this job, sight unseen. in less time than he takes to pick out a shirt. He feels pigeonholed, typed, a number on a card.
In Edmonton, the NFS local advisory committee, chaired by the personnel director of the University ol Alberta, and made up of management and labor, decided on an experiment. They went down to the NFS office and questioned applicants at random. A truck driver from Germany, they found, was a restaurant man. No FX) had troubled to find this out. though a good hotel job was open. A man classified as a cleaner could have filled ten other jobs: mechanic, stock taker, warehouse checker, and so on. A young man with a family had quit school in grade eight. Now he wanted to he a motor mechanic. He needed grade nine: until the committee arranged it no one advised him. In Toronto, an army major approached NFS for advice on retirement. He was so disgusted he quit the country for good. He is now comptroller for a small firm in West Virginia.
"I ll bet I give more redirection to people than the whole staff of NFS." says Geoffrey Heighington ol Heighington Associates, a private employment agency. "I tell people every day of the week to take that course or this one. to go here or there. And there isn't one guy in my field that doesn't do the same thing. We throw thirty percent of our time out the window on redirection. Telling girls how to dress, how to upgrade their skills, how to improve their personality, their knowledge. Now NFS, which should he doing this, doesn't have the time or the staff."
"I had a guy come into my office today, a nice boy.” says an NES employment officer. "He wants to get his
senior mairie and go to university. He has a mother-in-law problem. I said. Tm not a counselor. Do you want a job or not?’ And I got him a job at a brewery. I had another man come in. He was mixed up in some kind of scandal and he's blackballed in Canada. A big husky man and he wants to work. He wept in my office. He needs help. He needs counseling. Do you think I’ve got time for him ... ? I've got a hundred and twenty people waiting for me constantly. That's my file."
Perhaps everyone can do something well but it takes time to find out what. The U. S. Office of Vocational Guidance spends about two thousand dollars to counsel, train and place one man. NES has no figure comparable, but its special placement officers can seldom give people w'ho come to them more than twenty dollars in time. General placement officers can afford two dollars' worth.
NES is a personnel factory, an assembly-line operation in a field that more and more calls for custom work. "If you order a steno from NES they simply send a steno," says Joe Charles of Charles Personnel Ltd. "We ask, ‘What's the nature of the business?’ If it's a construction company we look for a girl who’s familiar with the jargon. We ask. ‘For whom will she work? Who are the other girls in the office?' "
NES must know what and where the nation's skills are and what they should be. to advise teachers, employers. government and public. It must operate at more than the bottom half of the man-power market. It must work at least as well as a private agency. Says the personnel director for a Winnipeg meat packer (overstating the case a little, perhaps): "If NES was doing its job there wouldn't be any need for private agencies. With the financial resources the federal government has, NES should have the best service.”
“NES should be offering advice to employees, employers, the government and the country as a whole," says Andrew Andras, of the Canadian l abor C'ongrcss. “But it's impotent. It can't do the job it's set up to do." As
long as the job is left undone, many youngsters will go on leaving school trained for unemployment. Companies looking for plant sites cannot find out where the skills are. And governments planning retraining are equally in the dark.
The retraining program for unemployed workers, says Max Swerdlow\ education director for the Canadian Labor Congress, is “out-dated, poorly planned and unco-ordinated.” He says that in one Ontario city an unemployed welder was picked to teach welding to eight other men. The result: nine unemployed welders instead of one.
'‘Young men and women today haven't the faintest idea what to train for.” says Geoffrey Heighington. "1 have people coming in to me at thirty years of age who have been in the wrong jobs for years. Salesmen who hate people. Accountants with no head for figures. One of the biggest requirements I have is for bilingual personnel. especially bilingual salesmen. Who's training them? Nobody. NES should be redirecting people to night classes in conversational French, courses in marketing. But there's no consistent thought. No information."
Stressing the need for a strong NES. the Canadian Welfare Council recommends its divorce from the Unemployment Insurance Commission. "Out of unemployment," reads its 1961 brief to the Senate Manpower Committee, "conies juvenile delinquency, dependency on welfare measures. family disintegration and hopelessness. The unemployed soon become the unemployable."
No one knows the cost of thwarted ambition, of a worker wasting away in a dead-end job. Nor the value of an employment agency working for longterm ends, freed of the need to justify itself to the politicians.
The top brass of NES deny that they push for statistics. "I've said I'll fire anybody I catch making phony placements, and I've let three go this past year,” says J. W. Temple, Ontario regional director. NES discontinued the 2(81, its work measurement guide just before this article went to press. "When you emphasize volume
you're digging your grave,” says Bill Thomson, the Employment Service director. “You'll get sour referrals. Your placements won’t stay sold."
Yet I heard no talk of changing what NES staffers call “legalized padding,” whereby a man sent to shovel snow for an hour counts as a placement — the same as a man who is placed in a job for life. A char lady or a fruit picker may be placed thirty times in a month: thirty placements. NES contacts union hiring halls and firms that have yearly lay-offs and offers to relieve them of the chore of calling their men up—each a "placement.”
Top brass still talks of bettering last year’s quotas, when EOs already have too little time for interviewing, testing, checking; too little time to make good use of their nation-wide teletype network that can put two hundred odd talent scouts at the service of an employer; too little time for counseling, to list secondary occupations — and in the end a bookkeeper who could fill a job as a salesman goes unemployed.
There is no talk of discontinuing surprise inspections, whereby a corps of officials descends on an office every two years. No talk of discontinuing the policelike supervision, whereby supervisors have regional supervisors who like to say they “provide ammunition for the people in the front lines” but who do little except make efficiency check-ups.
They talk of replacing the 281 with the “right” work measurement rating. “1 still think the concept's right," says Thomson, "but maybe we need a new method." They still think in terms of control. There is that great big chunk of money, the unemployment insurance fund, and the guardians of money think in terms of safeguards.
Senior commission officials, trying to straddle the fence, end up by contradicting themselves. It is, as a senior official admits, “like trying to run a bank and a welfare agency under one roof.” ★