The truth is out. We are living in a time when a shocking four out of 5 U.S. adults will struggle with joblessness or poverty. This revelation not only flies directly in the face of another drop in unemployment, but reconfirms what many of us had already known, we’re in trouble.
If you find yourself looking for a job, you’re in an over-crowded market where the young and educated are relegated to jobs well below their intellectual station. This is due in part to the heavy competition at the of the top of the job market among the highly-skilled. Basically, those left out of the jobs they really want are knocked down a peg, creating what Economist Paul Beaudry calls “cascading.” The top pushes down on the middle and the middle pushes down on the bottom, burying those who are most vulnerable and under-qualified.
This phenomenon stems from what’s been deemed “The Great Reversal.” That is, there used to be an over-abundance of high-paying jobs that required skill, intellectual capital and education, but now there just aren’t. In fact, demand for those types of jobs peaked all the way back in the year 2000. That’s right, even with all this talk of a “skills gap,” the need for high-skill jobs actually stopped growing 13 years ago.
In light of these findings, we must rethink our attitude toward education. From the time we can speak we’re taught that a college degree leads directly to stability and comfort, but clearly that’s no longer true. Yet we are certainly continuing to operate under that assumption, considering there are more people attending college than ever before. So what do we do, stop going to school? That’s not the answer either. You’re still (usually) in more trouble if you have less education.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, good luck. (if you listened to the Freakonomics link above, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Times are just different now. The days when a college degree alone meant stability may be fading fast in the rear-view, but if we look down the road, where are we headed? The answer is a bit murky because it’s somewhere we haven’t been before, but we can certainly take hints from what’s on the horizon and what’s all around us, technology.
Regardless of how many companies are hiring, technology will only become more ubiquitous, leading to an untold level of symbiosis between it and the humans that rely on it. Right now, we typically think of tech savvy people as having a leg up when you’re looking for a job, but the truth is, if you want to succeed in the future you’ll need it. Paradigm shifting technologies will create, destroy and augment entire industries, just as they have before. This type of change and instability always leads to tremendous opportunities for those who keep their knowledge and skills up to date, or better yet, a step ahead.
Conjecture about the future aside, let’s not forget there was also a time when mastering a skill alone was enough to make a comfortable living. Sure, an untold number blacksmiths and data company engineers found themselves out in the street after the industrial and PC revolutions, but some individuals and companies managed to not only escape obsolescence, but adapt and flourish.
One thing is for sure; a passive approach is not the answer. We can’t sit around wondering when it’s going to get better. We must be proactive, self-reliant and adaptable, yet specialized in a particular area. If we are to thrive in this new paradigm where nearly everyone struggles, we certainly cannot count on traditional power structures or degrees to prop us up or keep us afloat (just look at the mess that Spain and Greece find themselves in). For our generation, there’s no factory job to fall back on and there’s no safety net waiting to catch us when we retire. We must simply adapt to a new reality, and not lose sleep over the fact that things are different now. If we want to be rewarded, we must stay hungry (figuratively) and forward-thinking.