This Labor Day, we thought it would be a good idea to step back and look at a few long-term trends that are reshaping the labor market.  These are all job market trends workers should watch in a changing economy.

1) Skill sets are blending across industries

More and more jobs are “hybrids,” combining skill sets from across different fields. Marketing, finance, IT, and statistics were once completely unrelated areas, but now positions frequently mix-and-match skill sets. For example, statistics and marketing skills are combined as firms seek to use “big data” approaches to customer relationships and pricing, while IT and marketing intersect in areas like user experience design and mobile device programming. Staying in an industry silo may not be the best career path. Having skills that cross over between industries can keep job seekers ahead of demand.

2) Employers have been raising the credentials bar.

Employers have been “upcredentialing” in hiring for some time, requiring bachelor’s degrees for occupations historically open to workers without a college degree. For example, 65 percent of postings for Executive Assistants now call for a bachelor’s degree. Only 19 percent of those currently employed in these roles have a B.A.

Employers prefer bachelor’s credentials even when that makes the position harder to fill. Construction Supervisor positions that require a college degree, for example, take 61 days to fill on average, compared to 28 days for those postings that do not.

In some cases, higher credential requirements reflect a shift toward more complex roles, but in others, employers seem to be using the B.A. as a rough screen for the pool of candidates, assuming college graduates have better “soft skills,” such as written and oral communication skills, adaptability and problem solving. That’s a crude measurement, and possibly a self-defeating one, but this trend isn’t going away anytime soon.

3) Employers will demand workers show up with the skills the company needs—even interns.

Employers are making it clear they want workers who are ready from day one. You can see this in the market facing liberal arts graduates, who have the highest unemployment rates of all college graduates. Half of all the entry level jobs traditionally open to liberal arts grads now require some technical skills in addition to the degree.

Even internships, a crucial path to the job market for most college students, are now about experience, not training. Employers increasingly spell out what skill sets they expect interns to have before they arrive, such as knowledge of specific software programs or technical functions. Without those, recent graduates won’t get in the door.

And if job candidates don’t get in the door as an intern, they may never get in. Internships have become a major pipeline for entry level talent. In some cases, interns may be doing work that an entry-level employee might have done in the past. Internships account for one in four entry-level job postings in arts, video, and graphic design; and are one in five entry-level postings in industries like engineering and communications. And, most internships are secured early in Q1. In 2014, for example, most students needed to line up a summer internship by February.

4) The opportunities for technophobic workers are dwindling.

Word processing and spreadsheets have become “the basics” in the job market. Even among middle-skill jobs that historically don’t require a college degree, eight in 10 postings require this level of digital skill, and more than half of these also require more advanced digital skills, from computer-controlled machining to customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

By contrast, the jobs that don’t require the use of software are concentrated in transportation, construction, and installation/repair. All of those positions lag behind in pay and opportunities compared to digitally intensive jobs. Jobs that require digital skills pay 18 percent more, are twice as likely to provide a living wage, and are growing 2.5 times faster than jobs that do not. All in all, a little knowledge of Excel can go a long way.

5) There are still advantages to being human.

There’s been a lot of concern about robots taking over jobs formerly done by human workers, and with justification. There’s no question that technology can do repetitive, assembly-line tasks as well as or better than humans. But, in our research, we have found that employers are also screaming for skills no robot can provide. One of the most prized skills in IT job postings is also one of the oldest: writing. Creativity, problem solving, and research are also in high demand across a range of occupations. So don’t count on the bots winning anytime soon.

 

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