Forget ‘Jobs of the Future.’ Let’s Prepare People for Ones That Already Exist.

Jun 29, 2020

Anyone who has attended an education conference in the last ten years has likely heard the claim that 65 percent of today’s children will work in jobs that don’t even exist yet. The statistic, cited in a popular World Economic Forum report, often emerges in any conversation about education, the economy and the workforce.

Unfortunately, it’s untrue.

The real problem is that there are many existing jobs in our current economy that remain unfilled. Thousands of American students and jobseekers have simply never heard of them, yet alone gained the skills to attain them. These “middle skills” roles often don’t require a college—but do usually offer starting salaries of at least $50,000.

“Middle skills” jobs are estimated to comprise 53 percent of the economy, and the ones that have been hard to fill involve the use of digital tools like Jira, Google Analytics, or Power BI. Businesses of all sizes need people to fill these roles, which can be performed remotely during a pandemic. Burning Glass estimates that there were over 9 million roles posted in 2017 that fit this category, and the number continues to grow.

Yet, outside of Silicon Valley, few people—particularly those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds—know what these jobs are, or even what to search for online if they want to get into them. Orienting people to new categories of work could be key to helping them attain the middle-class jobs so desperately needed right now.

In my role as the career strategist at Pathstream, I’ve spent the last 8 weeks surveying over 550 people without a bachelor’s degree to gauge their interest in high-demand jobs like technical project management, growth marketing, cybersecurity, immersive design and Salesforce administration. Two findings emerged:

First, many people do not recognize the brand names of the software platforms employers frequently use in job titles. For example, it’s hard to search for roles as a “Tableau analyst” or “Salesforce administrator” if you’ve never heard of either of those tools.

Second, even if they do come across roles for “data analysts” or “project managers,” many people do not have a clear sense of what these workers actually do. This can make it difficult for them to see how skills from their past experiences are applicable to new opportunities. No one grows up reading about technical project managers or CRM administrators in the same way one learns about firefighters, lawyers and doctors. As astronaut Sally Ride once famously said, it’s very hard to “be what you can’t see.”

Across the country, career counselors and staffing agencies are working to familiarize people with novel industries where their skills are relevant. Kasey Roberts, a senior market and data analyst at KForce Staffing Agency, said her team has spent the last few weeks assisting people from customer service fields to consider loan processor roles needed to help banks roll out Paycheck Protection Program funding. These are jobs that can turn into full-time opportunities with pathways to growth in the financial services industry.

David Sidlar, an executive at Allegis Global Solutions, another staffing firm, describes his team’s biggest challenge as “candidate flexibility,” or “the willingness of people to do things they wouldn’t have previously considered.”

For all the talk of “reskilling” and “upskilling,” an overlooked first step is simply providing clear information on what the new types of jobs are and what a “day in the life” of someone in these positions looks like. Efforts underway include The American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which is working on a private-sector ad campaign led by Apple, IBM and the nonprofit Ad Council to promote alternate pathways to jobs.

In a moment when we are grappling with an economic crisis and racial inequity, people privileged enough to still have a “good job” also have a responsibility to reach out and expose more people to new categories of work. Here are some concrete ways to begin:

  • Volunteer as a mentor. Orient more candidates to emerging sectors and introduce them to the lingo, tools and skills associated with these fields.
  • Share online courses and programs that introduce people to digital skills and point them in the direction of reliable training programs with proven job outcomes.
  • Financially support the nonprofits that are exposing students and jobseekers from all backgrounds to in-demand careers. Organizations run by people of color like Braven, Code2040 and Austin Urban Technology Movement are good places to start.
  • Encourage employers to move beyond diversity and equity statements on social media and look for new sources of talent to actually hire. Encourage leadership at your company to take chances on people without college degrees and build apprenticeship programs that allow people with high potential to learn on the job.

We don’t have to worry about preparing people for jobs that don’t exist. Simply preparing people for the jobs that already do would be a huge step in the right direction.


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