The Future of Your Career

Caiaimage/John Wildgoose

Caiaimage/John Wildgoose

According to the Pew Research Center, 60% of Americans say it is not at all likely that they will lose their job in the next 12 months. American workers were nearly as optimistic in the years prior to the 2008 Great Recession. This false sense of security may make workers less inclined to pursue new skills, and therefore potentially increase the risk of being unemployed. In the past, continuing education and/or higher levels of education have been cited as ways to decrease the time between exit from and reentry into the workforce. Despite what appears to be a myopic perception of the future, where do Americans stand?  

A Demand for Higher Level Skillsets

What is certain is that economic change is reshaping the workplace. More and more jobs are required higher levels of preparation. For example, in 1980, 49 million American were in jobs that required a high level of preparation versus 50 million Americans who were employed in low-level preparation jobs—essentially a 50/50 split. In recent time, the story is much different. 83 million Americans are currently in jobs that required high levels of preparation whereas 65 million Americans are employed in lower preparation jobs. What’s more, Americans are perceptive of the demand for acquiring skillsets. According to the same study, 54 percent of respondents found it essential to receive continuing education for their current job whereas the remaining 45 percent found it important/not essential or not important. With a rapid increase in jobs requiring higher-level training, the remaining 45 percent may get left behind. Among the responding Americans, an array of skillsets was deemed important.

At the top of the list, having a detailed understanding of how to use computer technology, being able to work with people from many different backgrounds, and training in writing and communication were found to be extremely important or very important by 85% of respondents. Thereafter, training in math and science were fount to be extremely important/ very important by 69% of respondents. This preoccupation with math and science proficiency is ironic considering that the United States ranks average in science among 34 other countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—aimed at improving educational outcomes worldwide. Furthermore, the United States ranks below average in the mathematics. It will be important to translate this concern into policy to improve education in K-12. Last of the big hitter skillsets, is knowing a computer language in which 64% of respondent found this to be an extremely important/ very important skill. Fortunately, creative efforts are underway to implement computer programing into the K-12 curriculum. But this begs the question, where are the most important skills being learned? Is it in the schools, at home, or in the workplace?

A Balance Between Nature and Nurture

In the same Pew study, Americans reported that they learned important job skills in a variety of settings. These setting included in the workplace, in the classroom, and good ol’ life experience. But the degree to which certain skills were learned changes with location. For example, interpersonal skills and critical thinking were predominately skills acquired on the job. In contrast, written and spoken communication was cited as a skill that was learned through formal education. Still, many respondents cite life experience as a being a significant contributor to acquiring job skills. For example, a majority of respondents cite life experiences for developing their interpersonal skills. The interpersonal skills response is, however, a no-brainer—in order to be good at communicating with other people you have communicated with other people. More importantly, in an article in Forbes, employers in 2015 cited these three skills that increase employability. Furthermore, higher skilled jobs are paying significantly more money. When averaged, all jobs pay approximately $22/hour. In contrast, higher social jobs pay approximately $26/hour and higher analytical jobs pay approximately $27/ hour—representing a nearly 20% bump in pay for higher-skilled jobs. In summary, it pays to get better training.

A need for changing attitudes

Most Americans agree that any formal education beyond high school prepares students well for a higher paying job. This is in stark contrast to a survey that was conducted by the Pew Research Center in which they asked respondents if college was worth it in which case panoply of reasons were cited why it was not worth it. This attitude of college not being worth, yet the workforce requiring higher-skilled workers seem at odds with each other. If employers are searching for higher-skilled labor, but American by and large have a negative attitude toward formal education then we may begin to see a future generation that is less educated and prepared for the workplace. To further exacerbate this problem, automation of jobs and increased outsourcings of jobs to other countries are some examples that will decrease the demand for lower skilled labor in the United States. Lastly, a plethora of research has already argued that obtaining a college diploma is a good idea on almost any measure. At the end of the day, the writing on the wall points to a need for a more highly skilled workers to drive the economy of the future.