Jobs

On the Hot Seat: Jerry Rubin of Jewish Vocational Service

Jerry Rubin is chief executive of Jewish Vocational Service, a nonprofit that trains workers, supports their education, and helps them find jobs. He recently spoke with Globe correspondent Dan Adams about the economy, job market, and what employers are looking for.

Things seem to be climbing back economically. Are we just at the beginning of a long road back?

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We’ve seen slow, steady improvement for three years. The layoff numbers in Boston this last month were the lowest we’ve seen since the recession, so the bleeding has stopped. We’re actually getting people who are beginning to think about moving from jobs they’re not happy with, and we haven’t seen that in five years. So that’s a sign of optimism.

But better economic numbers probably aren’t much comfort to people who are out of work.

Absolutely. We continue to see really stubborn unemployment among workers who are over 55 and recent college grads.

Why those two groups?

The problem with younger graduates is they don’t have any experience, and they’re up against middle-aged and older workers who have a lot of experience. For the older workers, it’s two reasons. One is, they’ve got younger competition. The rehiring has happened much more in the 30- to 50-year old range because employers know those people have a longer career trajectory. The second is, older workers’ skills are out of date.

What would you tell someone like that? Is it ever too late to retrain?

No, there are definitely things that older workers can do. One is, get your certifications up to speed. Also, make sure that your networks are updated and active.

Do you find that people sometimes don’t recognize the value of networks?

No matter how many times people hear this, I do not think they fully understand that nine out of 10 jobs people find through networking.

What advice would you give to older workers?

If you’re out of work, do strategic volunteering. If you have IT or financial skills, do volunteering at a nonprofit organization. Think about pivoting, also. They may have to take their current skills and pivot into a new industry.

Is it tougher for young workers because they’re competing against people who they wouldn’t ordinarily during better economic times?

That’s the challenge with a soft job market. A lot of young adults coming out of college have a sense that this will just happen. And it won’t just happen. They need to ask, “What are my experiences, what are my skills, how do I tailor my resume, what industries am I going at, and who’s my network? Will I look at internship or volunteer opportunities to help move me towards that position? And what am I going to do tomorrow, next week, for the next three months until I get a job?”

What other advice do you have for job-seekers?

Know the industry you’re going into and the company you’re targeting. I mean, really know the company. Part of it is being able to show your added value, like, “You’ve got these challenges, I can solve them for you.” That takes research.

What industries are hiring the most?

At the high end, health care ... educational services and higher education ... business and technical services. At the low level, the growth has been in food service and hospitality.

Is college still a good investment?

If that young graduate isn’t working, college does not look like a great investment. But the overall labor market data is absolutely clear that college is worth the investment. And in Massachusetts, college matters more than almost any place in the country.

Is there a baseline set of skills hat employers are looking for?

On the high end, they’re looking for flexibility. They want people who can turn on a dime. They’re also looking for self-directed people who can work with autonomy. They’re looking for people who are well-networked. Knowledge of social media is also really important.

For the lower end, there are really four key things: language competency, reliability, autonomy, and the ability to learn quickly on the job.

What’s the biggest mistake that job-seekers make?

Waiting for it to happen. You might get lucky, but that happens when you have 2 percent unemployment. Another mistake is not taking advantage of the resources that are available, whether it’s an organization like JVS or a community college. The last piece is, you have to be willing to brand and sell yourself.

What do you see in the future for the job market?

It looks like we’re going to continue to see modest growth for the foreseeable future. Massachusetts is particularly well-positioned in this recovery. We have a very diversified labor market compared to other parts of the country. So I think the prognosis for the Massachusetts economy is good, and it’s going to continue to get better.

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