Deciphering the Jobs Paradox: Part I

January 11, 2012


This is the first in a three-part blog series about the growing jobs paradox, wherein motivated graduates are unable to find jobs while leading organizations are unable to find the right talent for open positions.

There’s Somethin’ Happenin’ Here

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The Economist Special Report Cover, September 2011

In September 2011, The Economist published a special report on the future of jobs called “The Great Mismatch”. The cover of the report (see picture) indicated the paradox of the current jobs economy: as unemployment seems to be rising, more and more employers are complaining they can’t find the talent they need. Indeed, in the article “Got Talent?” we learn that, according to the global HR firm Manpower, “46% of senior human-resources executives surveyed in [their] latest global annual survey said that the talent gap was making it harder for their firm to implement its business strategy. Only 27% said they felt their business had the talent it needed.” On the other hand, those lucky enough to have jobs are not counting their blessings either: in the same article, we learnt that “about four out of five employees would leave their current job if they could, but most think they would have trouble finding another one at the moment.”

Although The Economist report focused on the private sector, the same concerns echo across the social sector too. The thousands of graduates of international relations, conflict resolution, international development, public policy, and other degrees targeted more at the social than business sector are finding it ever harder to be employed upon graduation. Washington DC, where I live, is notorious for freshly minted graduates remaining in internships for long periods of time, adding to their already-high debt burdens or rapidly depleting their parents’ goodwill. But they just can’t find a full-time job. At the same time, many employers of these interns complain they can’t find the right set of people whom they would gladly hire.

When asked what the biggest constraint was to achieving his mission (related to promoting peace education in American schools), one of America’s most well-known social entrepreneurs, with offices on both coasts, reflected that while most of his senior management team would respond “fundraising”, he believed it was “inability to hire the right talent we need to become a world-changing organization”.

There are many factors contributing to this mismatch. The economic challenges faced by nations, corporations, and civil society organizations alike are certainly the primary ones. But what accounts for the supply side of the problem? Why are employers of social sector organizations finding it hard to hire from these masses of well-educated, socially motivated graduates? It’s not as if they possess nothing of value. Most graduates of well-reputed schools are able to think critically, write well enough, and have seen some of the world. And many of them understand better than older generations “the biggest innovation of the day, namely social media.”

Buried in a paragraph well into “The Great Mismatch”, the lead article in the report, was a casual mention of the underlying problem on the supply side: One of the structural reforms society needs is “changing education to ensure that people enter work equipped with the sort of skills firms are willing to fight over.”

To do this effectively will require us to go beyond the tired debate of education-for-its-own-sake vs. vocational training. This will be the subject of Part II of this blog series.

And students will have to place themselves in learning environments that enable them to keep learning and developing their skills long after their formal credentialing. This will be the subject of Part III of this series.


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