24 May 2017

Reshaping Entry-Level Jobs

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Companies bruised by the recession have stayed lean by automating and outsourcing core functions while slashing training budgets and payrolls. But in an effort to cut costs, some companies also have cut entry-level jobs that serve as a crucial first step on the path to a professional career. And others have made the responsibilities for first-timers more sophisticated, raising the bar for new graduates, who are expected to arrive job-ready from day one.

Economists say these developments may be making it more difficult for some young adults to gain a foothold in the labor market. The unemployment rate for people 20- to 24-years-old is falling as the economy recovers, but remained at a historically high 11.3% in July. Young adults lacking college degrees are having an especially hard time finding entry-level jobs.

The government doesn't break out data for entry-level jobs—the category is tough to track since it varies across industries and employers and changes as new skills and jobs appear. But economic studies show that employers, spoiled for candidates over the past few years, have been raising experience requirements for what might be considered entry-level work.

According to a paper by economists, the number of recruiters requesting two or more years of work experience for some middle-skill occupations rose as much as 30% from 2007 to 2010.

The slack labor market during that time offered a natural experiment. Employers had carte blanche to choose the most skilled applicants from a pool stocked with candidates. Newly minted graduates with associate's or bachelor's degrees were forced to get experience elsewhere, such as in internships, to find more demanding jobs.

As some entry-level positions are transformed, or fall away, others emerge. The job of social-media manager, a possible entree into the fields of media or marketing, didn't exist five years ago. Now, more than 18,000 such positions are open and thousands more workers serve in the role. And the number of entry-level jobs in computer systems and public relations are expected to grow over the next decade.

Still, a sampling of Bureau of Labor Statistics data suggests that demand for bottom-rung professional positions, such as loan officers and credit analysts, lagged behind that of the overall job market from 2003 to 2013. As a result, people once expected to input data and run basic calculations are now being asked to manipulate and analyze the data.

At the same time, workforce experts see a parallel dynamic where employers are reducing training budgets. The result is that companies want workers to arrive job-ready, with both soft and hard skills. At Deloitte Consulting LLP, new hires still receive intensive training, but they are expected to arrive with the communication skills and business acumen to sit in client meetings from the start.  Whereas a decade ago, managers took the approach to teach new hires what they need to know.

Such high expectations for low-level workers indicate early experience is crucial.

Click here to access the full article on The Wall Street Journal. 

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