Unemployment may have dropped slightly in August — from 8.3 to 8.1 percent, according to recently released figures from the Labor Department — but job creation numbers for the month were much less than expected, with employers adding just 96,000 jobs in the wake of a manufacturing and export slowdown instead of the 125,000 projected, according to a Los Angeles Times article. Currently, the economy is not creating enough jobs to absorb new workers coming into the labor force, and unemployment rates in nearly half of all states are still hovering above the national average.
But even if there were enough jobs to go around, would workers be able to fill them? Not according to recent studies, which show that tens of thousands of jobs go unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates. With jobs becoming more high-tech and skill-based, especially those in manufacturing, the field of opportunity has narrowed to those who have the expertise to compete. Unfortunately, that leaves out some displayed workers whose jobs have been phased out by automation and who have struggled to evolve their skills in the post-Recession economy.
As Thomas Friedman notes in a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece, the job market of today is not the job market of a few years ago — and that means the challenges of bringing new jobs to the market are much different than ever before. No longer do workers simply need a willingness “to work hard and play by the rules” to achieve success, he says; they need much more. As Friedman writes:
The truth is, if you want a decent job that will lead to a decent life today you have to work harder, regularly reinvent yourself, obtain at least some form of postsecondary education, make sure that you’re engaged in lifelong learning and play by the rules.
The age of information technology has changed the workforce more than any Recession ever could. Digitization is making lower-skilled, production-based jobs obsolete and contributing to the rise in technical skill and expertise required for new jobs — and globalization is kicking down the walls for companies scouring the world for the best talent. In today’s economy, geography is no barrier for hiring the best people. The implication for job seekers? It’s not about just having a good work ethic, Friedman says, it’s about being adaptable, working smarter, embracing new skills and methodologies faster, innovating and being a lifelong learner in your chosen profession.
Bringing Workers Up to Speed
To combat unemployment, many state and regional economic development leaders focus on developing a “work-ready workforce,” but even that is no longer enough. More and more companies don’t have time or the money to invest in bringing work-ready employees — even those with college degrees — up to speed, no matter how trainable they might be. Instead the focus should be on building a force of workers with at least some level of expertise and training already who have the right skills at the right time and are “ready now,” Friedman points out.
The more communities invest in helping workers get the specialized skills and expertise they need early on through education and workforce training, the better their chances of keeping unemployment low. Some universities, colleges and vocational and high schools are already wise to this and are doing their part by integrating a more hands-on, career-based learning model into their curriculum.
From eastern North Carolina to the heart of the Rust Belt near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, local business and community leaders are recognizing the value of instilling STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) knowledge into students early on and are working more closely with area colleges to prepare graduates for the fastest growing industries.
How has the job market dynamic changed in your community? What can local leaders do to better prepare displaced and future workers to succeed in the job market? Please share your thoughts below.