Here’s an interesting statistic from a 2014 labor survey by burning-glass.com: 65 percent of new job postings for executive secretaries and executive assistants now call for a bachelor’s degree, but “only 19 percent of those currently employed in these roles have a B.A.” So four-fifths of secretaries today would not be considered for two-thirds of the job postings in their own field because they do not have a four-year degree to do the job they are already doing! The study noted that an “increasing number of job seekers face being shut out of middle-skill, middle-class occupations by employers’ rising demand for a bachelor’s degree” as a job-qualifying badge – even though it may be irrelevant, or in no way capture someone’s true capabilities, or where perhaps two quick online courses would be sufficient.
This is just one of the problems contributing to unemployment and underemployment today. It was the subject of a seminar last Thursday jointly convened by New America, McKinsey, LinkedIn and Opportunity@Work, a new civic group led by Byron Auguste, who headed President Barack Obama’s recent efforts to reform the education-to-work pathway in America. The meeting’s focus was a new McKinsey study on how we can use big data and online talent platforms to better nurture talent in the workforce, find it where it already exists but may not be “badged” by a college degree and connect it both with the real demands of businesses and with colleges looking to make their curriculum more relevant to changing workforce needs. As Sen. Mark Warner, who delivered a smart keynote address, noted, “Almost 25 people are running for president - and it is remarkable to me that not one of them is talking about these issues.”
The McKinsey study begins: “Labor markets around the world have not kept pace with rapid shifts in the global economy, and their inefficiencies take a heavy toll.” Millions of people can’t find work, “yet sectors from technology to health care cannot find people to fill open positions. Many who do work feel overqualified or underutilized.”
“The skills gap is real,” explained Auguste, “but it is a symptom – not the cause – of a dysfunctional labor market, along with stagnant wages and declining job mobility.” While it’s true that more people need to master digital skills today, there are, he noted, a lot of people with skills employers are seeking - like coding skills - but who may lack the traditional credentials to be considered for the jobs. There are people who would be happy and able to master these skills but don’t have the information on what they are, where best to learn them, or access to new learning platforms that are not covered by traditional government loans or grants; companies have employees in their warehouses, call centers and retail floors with the motivation and aptitude to learn the skills for new jobs, but too few employers identify them or offer them online training opportunities; and there are rural and urban areas where tapping into the potential of less-credentialed workers could bring IT jobs back to U.S. shores.
Check out linkedin.com/edu. LinkedIn has a giant database of millions of workers, which it analyzed to see which schools are launching the most graduates into the top firms in a variety of fields. They’re not always what you’d expect. Accounting? Villanova and Notre Dame. Media? NYU and Hofstra. Software developers? Carnegie Mellon, Caltech and Cornell. Whether you want to be a plumber or surgeon, it is useful to know which schools’ alumni keep rising at the leading firms.
Technology is redefining work and commerce, and if we’re smart it can also redefine education for employment and advancement so everyone can monetize, or improve, any skill and connect with any employer in need of it. “Up to 540 million people could benefit from online talent platforms by 2025,” McKinsey said. It is not that hard. We need to be making much better use of the federal government’s labor market data and that of websites like Monster.com, HireArt.com and LinkedIn, and even consider creating skill equivalents of the Obamacare health exchanges. Online talent platforms – that can link everyone’s CV with every job opening, with the skills needed for that job, with the online and campus-based schools offering those skills with data showing which schools do it best – create more employment, more relevant skills and the right education for them.
Congress needs to create the legal, privacy and financial incentives to nurture this new social contract, Warner argued: “The biggest challenge for this labor force, and for federal policymakers, is the change in the traditional employer-employee relationship.” If we used all our technology resources, said Aneesh Chopra, former chief technology officer of the United States, we could actually give people “personalized recommendations for every step of your life – at every step of your life.” Adds Auguste: “We can use technology to do more than automate tasks. We can use it to accelerate learning, optimize talent, and guide people into better jobs and careers.”
The robots will only take all the jobs if we let them – so let’s use technology to keep the middle skilled in the middle class.