A New Kind of Tech Job Emphasizes Skills, Not a College Degree

From today’s New York Times by Steve Lohr:

ROCKET CENTER, W.Va. — A few years ago, Sean Bridges lived with his mother, Linda, in Wiley Ford, W.Va. Their only income was her monthly Social Security disability check. He applied for work at Walmart and Burger King, but they were not hiring.

Yet while Mr. Bridges had no work history, he had certain skills. He had built and sold some stripped-down personal computers, and he had studied information technology at a community college. When Mr. Bridges heard IBM was hiring at a nearby operations center in 2013, he applied and demonstrated those skills.

Now Mr. Bridges, 25, is a computer security analyst, making $45,000 a year. In a struggling Appalachian economy, that is enough to provide him with his own apartment, a car, spending money — and career ambitions.

“I got one big break,” he said. “That’s what I needed.”

Mr. Bridges represents a new but promising category in the American labor market: people working in so-called new-collar or middle-skill jobs. As the United States struggles with how to match good jobs to the two-thirds of adults who do not have a four-year college degree, his experience shows how a worker’s skills can be emphasized over traditional hiring filters like college degrees, work history and personal references. And elevating skills over pedigree creates new pathways to employment and tailored training and a gateway to the middle class.

Read the complete article here.

The Downward Ramp

From NYT’s “Opinion” by Thomas Edsall:

With the bursting of the tech bubble at the start of the 21st century, two decades of growth at the high end of the job market — once the province of college graduates with strong cognitive abilities — came to an abrupt halt, according to detailed studies of employment and investment patterns by three Canadian economists. We are still feeling the ramifications.

New evidence produced by Paul Beaudry and David A. Green of the University of British Columbia, and Ben Sand of York University, demonstrates that the collapse, between 1980 and 2000, of mid-level, mid-pay jobs — gutted by automation or foreign competition (and often both) — has now spread to the high-skill labor market.

The U-shaped pattern of job growth characteristic of recent decades – strong at the top and bottom, but weak throughout the middle — has now become “a bit more like a downward ramp,” according to David Autor, an economist at M.I.T. who documented the decline in mid-level jobs in the 1980s and 1990s.

Preliminary findings suggest that this trend is alarming in almost every respect. Just one example: the drying up of cognitively demanding jobs is having a cascade effect. College graduates are forced to take jobs beneath their level of educational training, moving into clerical and service positions instead of into finance and high tech.

This cascade eliminates opportunities for those without college degrees who would otherwise fill those service and clerical jobs. These displaced workers are then forced to take even less demanding, less well-paying jobs, in a process that pushes everyone down. At the bottom, the unskilled are pushed out of the job market altogether.

Read the entire article here.