Looking for the Purple Squirrel? Training Might be Easier

By CHERY SABOL for the Missoula Job Service

With Missoula’s seasonally-unadjusted unemployment rate down to 4.4 percent in October, some employers report difficulty in finding workers they want. Unfilled jobs from the first half of the year in Missoula still linger, from the highly specialized – dean of the law school – to the not-so-specialized jobs of food servers and sales managers.

At the same time, the Missoula Job Service is still hopping with job seekers. Some are freshly unemployed and some not so. They represent an array of experience, interests, and accomplishments. What is going on here? Why aren’t employers connecting with job seekers?

A skills gap is the problem, according to the majority of hiring managers and human resources professionals surveyed by CareerBuilder. Nearly 80 percent of employers surveyed said they are at least somewhat concerned by the skills gap, but only about 40 percent are doing anything to bridge the gap between their job vacancies and workers deemed to lack necessary skills.

Purple Squirrel

‘Purple Squirrel’ for hire? Photo by Richard Winchell.

What are those necessary skills? Just what are job seekers lacking? According to some, skills are in the eye of the beholder and that eye might be a little jaundiced. From author Allison Linn at Yahoo Finance, “Experts say the weak job market has many companies feeling that they can demand a candidate who has a perfect record and plenty of relevant experience, and is willing to take a temporary job for relatively low pay. ‘Sometimes we call that a purple squirrel,’ said Jorge Perez, senior vice president in the North American division of the staffing firm Manpower.”

“Perez said the (unemployment) drop shows that some employers have become more willing to accept that that the purple squirrel may not exist. If they want the perfect candidate, they may need to do some training-either in-house or in partnership-and offer a good salary, full-time status and benefits,” Linn wrote.

Training? Well, the Job Service may be able to help with that. Federal funds, administered by Missoula Job Service, pay for training opportunities for both employers and job seekers. Workers who were laid off from their last jobs can qualify for funding to learn new skills, even skills that will take their careers in whole new directions. Training money is also available to job seekers based on income eligibility. In both cases, the training program may consist of “one or more courses or classes, or structured regimen, that leads to a certificate or degree or the skills or competencies needed for a specific job or jobs or occupation.”

Innovative job seekers might identify a business that interests them and then pitch an arrangement for on-the-job training or an apprenticeship. The Job Service has funds to help pay a job seeker’s wage during an on-the-job training period. At the end of that time, the employer has a good sense of what that worker is capable of and the worker has learned new skills that are valuable to the employer. Apprenticeships offer residents a chance to earn while they learn in one of about 200 skilled occupations.

Another funding source is available to employers who see changes in their industries and find themselves needing to re-train their workforce to stay competitive. Employers whose businesses are registered with the Secretary of State in Montana, who have been in business for a year or longer, and who have 20 or fewer employees at the work site and fewer than 50 employees statewide, can obtain up to $2,000 per employee per year to teach new skills.

Employers, too, benefit from training workers in on-the-job training programs and apprenticeships. Businesses can receive monetary assistance for wages paid to workers in training.

It takes some initiative to secure assistance for training, but surprisingly little red tape once it gets under way. The funding is there – unlike the purple squirrel. Who wants one of them, anyway?


Looking for a job in Missoula? Be sure to check out our Missoula Job Listings.  Be sure you “LIKE” the Missoula Job Service Facebook Page for daily post on job opening. You’ll also find Missoula-area information on Job Hunting ResourcesJob Hunting Tips, Job Interview Tips, tips for writing Cover Letters and Resumes.


Chery Sabol is an employment consultant at the Missoula Job Service, an organization that offers programs and services to assist employers and job seekers alike. Those looking for employment can view job openings on our website, as well as our Facebook Page  and Pinterest Boards. Employment consultants provide résumé reviews, conduct practice interviews, and offer skills testing.

The Job Service also provides a self-service area where job seekers have access to phones, a fax machine, a copier, and computers. Our qualified staff also offers business consulting services, including employee recruitment and retention assistance. Additionally, we provide financial support for businesses looking to train both new and current employees.

We are here to help our community!