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Corporations Ally to Get a Handle on the Turbulent Labor Market

March 09, 1997|STUART SILVERSTEIN

Workers aren't the only ones uneasy about their future amid the upheaval in the American job market. Many employers also live in fear--although, in their case, the worries are about whether they can keep finding staffers with prized technology-related skills.

In an unprecedented effort to deal with the employment insecurities among workers and companies alike, 10 high-profile corporations have teamed up to form a nonprofit consortium, the Talent Alliance.

The alliance springs from the premise that the volatility of the labor market, where big layoffs persist even as more high-technology jobs are created, has become a permanent feature of American life. The group cites a recent national poll indicating that nearly half of U.S. workers made a major career change over the last two years, including switching to new industries or going back to school.

As an antidote to the turmoil, the Talent Alliance--already including such companies as AT&T, DuPont, Johnson & Johnson and Unisys--is focusing on two main initiatives.

One is a sophisticated, computerized employment service, open to member companies and their workers, which will match job hunters with available openings. The aims are to help laid-off workers find new jobs more easily and to create a talent pipeline for companies in need of workers.

Alliance members "are saying there's a way we can stay competitive without whipsawing people through the economy," said Sara Horowitz, executive director of New York-based Working Today, a worker advocacy and service group.

With the job-matching program, observers say, employers also may be trying to dodge bad publicity. AT&T, which hatched the idea of the Talent Alliance, became a lightning rod for criticism early last year after announcing plans to eliminate about 40,000 jobs.

The alliance's second main initiative is to provide training in the job skills most sought by member employers. Along with enriching the employers' potential talent pool, the training is intended to safeguard workers' futures by giving them technologically up-to-date skills in such areas as computer software.

These offerings "are about people trying to be accountable for their careers," said Jeannette Galvanek, president and chief executive of Talent Alliance and a former AT&T vice president.

The alliance, which hopes to start offering its services on a limited basis in mid-April, also plans to open "career growth centers," which will provide workers with career advice both in person and over the Internet.

In fact, although Galvanek is based in Morristown, N.J., the alliance will provide services by computer across the country, she said, and will rely heavily on a site it is constructing on the World Wide Web (http://www.talentalliance.org).

Founders of the Talent Alliance warn against overblown expectations.

"This is something that's new and different, and it can do some things, but it can't cure labor market issues in and of itself," Galvanek said.

Still, the organization stands out as having made the biggest response in corporate America to the changes sweeping the nation's job market. The group hopes to steadily expand the program's reach by bringing in more corporate members.

The alliance's approach "is groundbreaking in that they're working for the greater good of all the companies and individuals rather being narrow in their thinking," said John Epperheimer, director of corporate services for Cupertino-based Career Action Center. The center is a nonprofit training and counseling organization that was one of the models for the Talent Alliance.

To succeed, the Talent Alliance will need to navigate an array of tricky issues, which, in part, entail making sure that member companies, including rivals, work together and preventing the alliance from becoming a vehicle for companies to raid each other's star employees.

By trying to do so many things, including providing both outplacement help for layoff victims and training for employed workers, the alliance risks blurring its mission. That issue prompted the Career Action Center to curtail its outplacement services 2 1/2 years ago and to focus on training.

"Once you start doing outplacement work, that's what you become known for . . . and it's difficult to change that perception" Epperheimer said.

Horowitz added that the Talent Alliance is set up for employers, rather than workers, to make the key decisions about such issues as what kinds of training should be provided. Workers are dependent on the member corporations' "continuing largess," she said.

Talent Alliance executives, however, counter that they will encourage worker feedback over the Internet, through surveys and other avenues.

*

Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein is reachable by e-mail at stuart.silverstein@latimes.com or by phone at (213) 237-7887.

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