2 reasons it really is harder to get a job after a recession

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The economy is great — getting a job is easier than any time in the last decade. And yet, for many of us, it is not.

It’s a conundrum I’ve been thinking about for quite a while — how can the economy be so good, job openings plentiful, but still difficult to get a job? I finally found an explanation that I think makes sense, so I thought I would share it here.

The jobs that are not coming back

Wonkblog, from the Washington Post, seems to get it:

A striking chart comes from economists Nir Jaimovich and Henry Siu, who find that job losses in recent recessions came almost entirely from occupations defined by “routine” tasks. These are the modest but sturdy occupations that once formed the bedrock of the American middle class — think secretaries, bank tellers and machine operators.

In the past, employment in those kinds of routine jobs would always snap back after recessions. But starting with the 1991 downturn, many of these occupations started to vanish permanently, as this chart from the economists shows.

Then there are the professional, creative positions — that evolve

Non-routine jobs, low-paying to high-paying, are still climbing — but require more intellectual and creative ability. In short, non-routine jobs continue to evolve and corporations are taking advantage of that:

If it seems like it’s harder and harder to get a job lately, in part that’s because employers have gotten much pickier since the recession. Increasingly, they are looking for better-educated workers with more advanced qualifications — which might be one reason companies have been so slow to fill openings in recent years.

Economists Alicia Sasser Modestino, Daniel Shoag and Joshua Ballance believe that employers became choosy during the Great Recession in order to take advantage of the abundance of people looking for work and to screen out low-achievers. They call the process “opportunistic upskilling,” and they have shown that it happens whenever there’s a glut of labor.

“Opportunistic upskilling.” Kind of like “right-sizing.” I hate both terms equally…

What’s a Cubicle Warrior to do?

Since this seems to be a logical explanation of how work requirements are changing and jobs are replaced by machines, what does it mean for us?

First, if your job is routine, it’s at risk for outsourcing or replacement. It is a question of when. Work in a position that isn’t simply following the same ten step workflow every day. Find a position that does require intellectual and creative flair to do the work.

Second, with evolving positions, the key point is that companies expect more of you in the role than they did before. The job skills you carry that are five years old apply, of course — but they don’t necessarily make you a great candidate for an open position. Or mean you make more money.

Have Job Skills, will travel

Job skills are the currency of work — the more specific skills (and adjacent skills) you can bring to your work, the better your chances of doing well. Since jobs are evolving, it’s important to continually expand them. To a degree, it may sound like going after skills that seem to not have much relevance now. But higher end job skills in a particular job tend to become standard needs in the job descriptions to come.

It requires some thought, but craft a set of job skills to acquire every year to improve how you do your work. Too many people are shocked when their job is lost and suddenly they don’t qualify for the job they used to have. Building the skills means you will still qualify.

Your resume needs to reflect updated and forward looking job skills

What do I mean by that?

“You’ll see the shift among salespeople, who are now required to use big data analytics to better target their clients,” Kahn said. Or quality control operators, she said, who are moving into more strategic roles now that machine vision technology has taken over watching production lines.

In a new working paper, the economists find that in areas most affected by the recession, job requirements rose permanently. Kahn and Hershbein looked not only at the desired education and experience levels but also for keywords involving critical thinking and computer skills.

Get the job skills needed. Get them on your resume. It is your best defense in the ever-evolving job market.

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