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
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.
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