Middle-Skill Workers: The Backbone of Company Work Teams

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Hire Education:  What Do Your Candidates Really Need? 

Is it possible that the right candidate for your company or your client might not have a college degree?

We all know that a college degree equates to a higher income later in life, right?  For years, the media has reported the benefits of higher education, which include greater income and employability over a lifetime, among other benefits.

But in disrupted economy and a tight job market, there is at least a decent chance that the candidate you are looking for could come from the “new collar” or “middle-skill” demographic and lack a 4-year degree.

At least a couple of things are happening right now in the workplace.  We know that competition is tight for highly skilled, experienced talent.  A relatively high number of Americans in the workforce have undergraduate and advanced degrees.  So many, in fact, that jobs formerly occupied by individuals with high school degrees are taken by those with college degrees who cannot find the employment they seek.

This is at least partly due to a flux in how we work, but also to the number of students who stuck around for advanced degrees during the Great Recession, when there were relatively few jobs available upon completion of an undergraduate degree.

Automation and machine learning are also disrupting industry across the board.  While obtaining an undergraduate or graduate level degree describes a level of candidate persistence and discipline, it does not guarantee the prospective employee has the boots-on-the-ground skillset or adaptability to create long-term value for your organization. 

What are middle-skills? 

According to Harvard Business School (HBR), 69% of HR decision-makers say that difficulty attracting and retaining middle-skill workers impacts their bottom line.

By “middle-skill workers,” HBR is talking about workers with experience and training that exceeds a high school level but does not include a college degree.  Middle-skill workers often form the backbone of company work teams, but can be hard to identify and hire.  These are jobs that provide a living wage, opportunity for advancement and additional training, and prove attractive for those seeking stable employment.

Most importantly, these “new collar” workers often have an attribute that even their more highly paid and educated co-workers may not—adaptability.  At the 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland, Esteban Bullrich, Minister of Education in Argentina noted, “A child today can expect to change jobs at least seven times over the course of their lives, and five of those jobs don’t exist yet.”

It is common truth that an unstable environment favors those who can adapt.  Workers must stay ahead of the steady drumbeat of automation by continually adding new skills, responding to new challenges, and being willing to retrain as a matter of habit to effectively manage uncertainty.  As well, HR must stay ahead of seen—and unforeseen—skills gaps that occur with rapidly developing tech.

Future-proofing is a necessary characteristic of a high-value workforce. Along with a well-tended leadership succession plan, this includes workers who are adaptive, creative, resilient, and display both a positive attitude and collaborative nature.

Only you know the requirements of your trade, industry, or organizational setting.  As artificial intelligence continues to affect businesses and their employees, it is a safe bet to consider the adaptive capabilities of the candidates you hire, regardless of their educational background.

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