We live in exciting times. The unemployment rate is down from its peak in 2010 (though it’s still too high). And more and more people are being funneled through the college system.
But there is something not quite right about the labor market right now. We have record numbers of people who are highly skilled. And yet, even with those skills, many are still not finding jobs. The whole point of going to university and going into debt was to get a good middle-class job. And yet these seem to be disappearing from our economies just as there is a glut of people to fill them.
The reasons for this are structural and well beyond the scope of this post. But it does raise an interesting issue. One would think that skills, like learning programming or accounting, would be highly valued. But because the supply of these skills is now higher than the economy can bear, they don’t command the same wages as they once did.
The question, therefore, is what is it that employees do value? In other words, what’s scarce right now in the labor market? Once that’s known, people looking for jobs will be able to improve their chances.
The biggest change that we see right now is a shift in employer thinking. It used to be the case that to get the job you wanted, you had to have a college degree. It was just one of those societal prejudices that meant that practically everybody who wanted a career had to go through the mill.
But now the supply of college students is so high that being a college graduate has lost a lot of value. So what does that mean? Well, at first, employers raised the grades you needed to get in college to get a job with them. But now the emphasis has changed again.
Businesses have finally recognized that academic ability isn’t the only factor that matters. Productivity is influenced by many other variables, including character traits. Academics might have great book knowledge, or be good at memorizing facts. But do they have the ability to solve problems in the real world? Not always.
Something that comes up in interview tips for veterans time and again is professionalism. Military personnel are often unaware of etiquette in the civilian economy and struggle to fit in.
It seems as if the same problem holds true for graduates. Often graduates don’t understand the best way to behave or to build their personal brand in the work environment. And, because they’ve been under the sway of teachers for so long, they don’t understand how the real business world works. It’s all about voluntary interactions and negotiation. Yet this is in direct opposition to their experience of school.
Somebody who doesn’t know how to conduct themselves professionally is a big liability for a company. In business, reputation is king. And so businesses are looking for people who can behave professionally at all times.
Grit And Determination
The other things that a college education can’t give people are fundamental character traits. Things like grit and determination aren’t developed in universities. But, when it comes to work, grit is what counts.
Employers, however, are interested in whether somebody has perseverance. It shows that that person wants to solve problems and move forwards.
Grit is also necessary for anybody who wants to pursue their own career and move towards the place they ultimately want to go. Yes, there will be setbacks. But a person with determination can smash through setbacks and keep moving on upwards.
Another vital skill in business is the ability to negotiate. Negotiation is about finding those situations that are a win-win for both parties. It’s at the heart of what business is all about.
But, again, this is not something that colleges teach, like hard skills. In fact, there is no opportunity to negotiate at college. You’re just given your grades, and then you move on.
Because education doesn’t teach the ability to negotiate, it’s a skill that’s scarce. And like anything scarce, employers are on the lookout for it.
It seems as if the labor market will have to change, based on the laws of supply and demand. Hard skills are abundant right now, thanks to all the college education that we have. But soft skills, the things that make a worker actually productive, are as scarce as ever. To really get ahead in the labor market, candidates must emphasize the latter.
This post has been contributed by Ryan Gatt, it may contain affiliate links.