Today’s Job Market in Transition: The Big Picture

Take a look at the big picture

By Jim Hasse

Many times during the last five years I’ve heard top government officials and business leaders say this:

“Our current high U.S. unemployment rate is, in part, due to a mismatch between available jobs and the available skill sets in today’s labor market. Jobseekers often lack needed skills, and, therefore, become a part of the long-term unemployed.”

For me, as a jobseeker, that statement always alarms me because I’m not at all sure I have the right up-to-date skills for today’s job market and that adds just another obstacle for me to overcome – on top of my disability.

But, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Department of Labor) supports the common assertion about job skills -- at least when it’s tied to educational levels. U.S. unemployment rates in 2012 were:

  • 4.0 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • 8.3 percent for those with a high school degree.
  • 12.4 percent for those with less than a high school diploma.

By 2018, 63 percent of U.S. jobs will require training beyond high school; only 10 percent of jobs will be open to those without a high school diploma, according to L. Allen Phelps, director emeritus of the Center on Education and Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He points out that one of the fastest growing job sectors during the next four years will be in health care, which alone has 120 job categories (most of which require some kind of training beyond high school).

In fact, health care offers many opportunities for STEM careers. STEM careers are those which tap your capabilities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past when we first encountered globalization and began to function as a knowledge-based economy.

More than 10 percent of all U.S. jobs are now considered STEM careers, and they are fast becoming a significant part of our economy, according to Jim Brazell.
Brazell is a sociologist, technology forecaster and venture accelerator specializing in educational and entrepreneurial innovation. He works across schools at all levels and with clients from industry, government and non-profit organizations.

Humankind has experienced four revolutions in communication, according to Brazell: oral, scribe, typographic and cybernetic. He says we’re in the midst of a great shift, right now, to the cybernetic age. And, as a result, jobs and industry are going through dramatic changes.   

In fact, he views cybernetics as the fifth domain -- after air, space, sea and land.

Cybernetics is giving us a world of what he calls “mixed reality,” which combines the physical world with virtual reality. One example of that mixed reality is a now-available GPS unit which shows your present environment in real time but also projects the future path you wish to take in real-time images.

Another example of mixed reality, Brazell says, is Kinect, introduced in North America in November 2010, which allows you to control and interact with the Xbox 360 without the need to touch a game controller. You operate it through a natural user interface, using your gestures and spoken commands.

“The future is here in robotics,” he points out, also citing nanotechnology which is making “lab-in-pill” robots possible and “robot space,” a new field in which NASA hopes one day robots will assist flesh-and-bone astronauts in orbit.

“There are around 200 computers in today’s newer-model car,” he says. “I consider today’s car a robot. To read the tech manual for that car, you need to know math at the sophomore level in college.”

Wind turbines used to produce electrical power are also robots, according to Brazell, and they, too, are creating jobs. “You have to know mechanics, electronics and computer science and be physically fit,” he said. “They are STEM jobs.”

But, don’t let the “physically fit” imperative in that wind farm example concern you, if you have a disability. Many STEM careers are “disability-friendly.”

For example, today’s process control engineers in agriculture and biomedical sciences typically work in a high-tech atmosphere, surrounded by large monitors with a variety of processors which allow them to control or watch all the vital systems throughout a production process.

Process control engineers need to know computer science, electronics, and instrumentation as well as math and science. If you have that knowledge and can use a keyboard, physical mobility is irrelevant to carrying out the tasks in processing control engineering.

Brazell says there are also good-paying STEM jobs in securing our electrical, oil, gas and cyber grids against terrorist attacks. Check the list of top STEM careers.

What does all this mean for you, a young student with a disability who is about to enter the workforce or a seasoned jobseeker with a disability? In either case, you need essential knowledge to be a well-rounded worker in the 21st Century. That includes science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as the liberal arts.

It also means gaining the ability to harness knowledge in all five of those disciplines and learning how to combine and apply that knowledge to real-life workplace situations. It’s what Brazell calls “moving from ‘specialty’ learning to ‘systems’ learning.”

“The Earth is our Sputnik,” Brazell says, referring to the current growth in “green” jobs and the competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s, which sparked American innovation in education and job creation. “Instead of the stove-pipe education model, we must connect heads and hands as well as theory and action to create an innovative future that works.”

Brazell explains that, during the last three years, the U.S. has slid from fourth to fifth place in competitiveness, according to The Global Competitiveness Report, a yearly report published by the World Economic Forum which evaluates the institutions, policies, and factors that set the sustainable current and medium-term levels of economic prosperity of 148 countries.

So, in this new “Sputnik era,” watch for more U.S. incentives for individuals who are interested in pursuing STEM careers or retraining for STEM careers. Take full advantage of those incentives.

But, also keep in mind that job opportunities (and requirements) are not limited by national boundaries. In an increasing number of job sectors, you’re competing with job candidates not only in the U.S. but in Brazil, Sweden, Singapore and other countries. Today’s job market is becoming increasingly global.

And, keep in mind Brazell’s core recommendation:

Instead of specializing in one or two of the STEM disciplines adopt a more systemic learning approach. Prepare yourself for the time when you can apply all four STEM capabilities (as well as the liberal arts you’ll need in any work situation) across a variety of job sectors.

In doing so, you’ll be preparing yourself for the 21st Century workplace.

Copyright © 2014. Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:
Jim Hasse, Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF), (www.jimhasse.com) has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both jobseekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com/), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. Lighthouse International (www.lighthouse.org/), New York City, is the author of the 272-page hard-cover book, which continues to evolve online on Hasse’s forum, Timely Tips for Retaining Employee Talent (forum.perfectlyable.com).  He’s the founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, a comprehensive career coaching guide for parents of youngsters with cerebral palsy.