Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

An open letter to jobseekers about long term changes in the job market and employability – 1

Posted in career development, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on September 29, 2012

Over the past few years I have written a number of open letters to this blog as supplemental postings to my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development and its Part 2 continuation page. Many of them appear as open letters to upcoming college graduation classes, and to seniors and juniors as they begin planning for life after school and for full time jobs and careers. And in a real sense I write this as a continuation of that series, but here with an overtly more open-ended audience in mind.

A point that I have been making for several years now is that the employment downturn we are still mired in with its high national-average unemployment rates is not just one more example of how employment cycles up and down. We are experiencing a much more profound, long term change that is in effect redefining the jobs market and employability, as driven by a fundamental change in what types of jobs are going to be available for hire, and what an employer would look for in filling them. And I write this posting with recent reports from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in mind.

The numbers are both startling and expected – expected because they fit into an already emerging trend, but startling for their import for so many people seeking work in the United States and for their families. When you parse out working age cohorts from the overall jobs market to gain a finer grained idea as to who is and who is not finding new jobs and keeping them in our current economy, some striking disparities appear. As of this writing, the overall national unemployment rate in the United States has held steady through much of the recent downturn and it has slowing been improving – for people with at least a bachelor’s degree. But even as the country as a whole has entered into this current recovery, people with less than a bachelor’s degree have continued to lose ground, with an aggregate loss of some 200,000 more jobs from the market from early 2010 to early 2012 when the newest figures were collected to.

First consider job seekers in the least educated of the three groups analyzed – those who did not go to college at all, and even if they had a high school diploma or equivalent. During our most recent recession and continuing on since then they have seen the total number of jobs available to them drop by over 5.8 million, or over 10%. In the middle group of people who had at least some college education and up to an associate’s degree, losses were nowhere near as steep and were largely reversed from new hiring by the beginning of this year. And for the highest educational level group with at least a bachelor’s degree there was no actual net loss of jobs across this cohort and for the country as a whole during the recession, and since the beginning of the recovery some 2.2 million jobs have opened up and hired for, for an employment rate increase of approximately 5%. So the recovery has been very real – but only for people with a higher level of education. And the recession has simply continued unabated for those with the least.

As an aside from the basic discussion I would offer here but as a pertinent one, I note with that in mind that when politically conservative and politically liberal and progressive partisans disagree on whether we have seen a real recovery or not, both groups are right as they focus on its impact on different workforce demographics. But setting that point aside, valid and important as it is, I turn here to consider something of the why of this.

• Jobs that can be readily and cost-effectively automated are disappearing from the marketplace.
• Jobs that can be readily and cost-effectively outsourced to places with lower wages and benefits, and lower overall labor costs are disappearing from the labor market – here at least and they will continue to do so too.
• Jobs that can simply be done away will continue to do so too. And for a (non)working example of that, consider the jobs prospects for a highly trained and experienced repair technician who has always worked on a type of equipment that employers and businesses no longer repair for continued use as it is now more cost-effective simply to throw out the old and replace it with new.

These factors have all hit more heavily on the less educated in the workforce and have led to both decreased hiring and reduced job stability for those already employed. And this simply adds to the increased selectivity that hiring managers and their managers can and do show as they face more candidates and potential candidates for any position; employers can afford to be more demanding of education and work experience of those they would hire because there are more candidates to choose from who have more to offer. And once again, the less educated are being cut out. And none of the three points I noted in my bullet point list above represent cyclical change. They all represent permanent shifts in employment and employability. Once a job has been successfully and cost-effectively automated or done away with entirely it is not coming back. Once a job has been successfully outsourced to a venue with lower labor costs, it is not going to take a reverse trip unless some specific and in most cases unlikely events intervene to make that work more cost effective again in its original locations and for its original workforce. And if an outsourced job does move again, it is probably going to be because it has been re-outsourced to a still less expensive workforce. And we have already seen that happen where for example work first outsourced from the United States and Europe to countries such as India, has in some cases moved on from there too.

With this I outline the basic predicament as it stands here, early autumn 2012. I am going to follow this with a part two installment in which I will discuss some approaches that a job seeker might pursue in addressing this challenge. And I note in anticipation, that solving a problem is a lot easier, the more you know of precisely what that problem is. So what should a job seeker do who finds themselves not getting interviews, or getting them but not getting hired when they are concerned that their education level might be a reason?

You can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 and also see my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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