Once upon a time, we had a fairly even labor market, where blue collar workers were employed (and unemployed) at about the same rate as their white collar counterparts. The fact that one group typically held only high school diplomas at best while the other held advanced college degrees did not seem to tip the scales of supply and demand in any specific direction.
But that's absolutely not the case anymore. In recent years, we have seen the clear emergence of a two-tiered labor market that dramatically favors the employment of highly skilled, college-educated workers. Why? Because much of the work that has historically been more labor-oriented--factory jobs, production lines, data entry, and so on--has now been automated, thanks to advanced technology. And this shift has had two major and lasting effects. First, companies in every industry now have a fast-growing demand for people who can develop and work with these essential technologies. Second, high-growth job opportunities are almost exclusively restricted to occupations that require a formal education or many years of skill-building (i.e., not blue collar jobs).
So how should businesses and job seekers react?
If you're a less-skilled or non-college-educated person looking for work, you have to focus on learning. I gave some advice on this last week--and it holds true for any kind of employee, whether white collar or blue collar. If you can't keep up with trends in technology, or the latest skills in your specific industry, you're in trouble. Fortunately, you have many accessible and affordable outlets for continuing your education today. They are worth investigating.
If you're a highly skilled and educated job seeker, you're in luck. I like to think of you as job shoppers, not job hoppers. Your qualifications position you to be picky about where you want to work--and you should expect to be courted by companies in need of your talents. If you want to get noticed, keep connecting on social networks with people and companies that match your interests and skills. Be forthcoming about what you want, what you expect, and what constitutes a good fit for your needs as an employee. You want to end up somewhere that, when you move on in 3-4 years, you'll be proud to put on your LinkedIn profile.
Last--but by no means least--if you're looking to hire people with years of experience, complex skills, and advanced educations, be prepared to compete and move fast. You will most definitely engage in a battle for talent, not just against your direct competitors, but against companies in virtually every industry. You cannot simply post a job and hope that enough of the right people apply, nor can you expect that every good worker will stay put once you hire them. (A good churn rate used to be around 5%, but today that is growing. (In Fact, you're considered to be doing well in the competitive tech market in the Bay Area if your churn is between 20-25%.) That's just the new reality.
Remember, too, that the talent you're looking for has most likely weathered the recession of 2008. They know that the good times don't last forever, and they no longer trust that one company can provide them with a long-term career path. They will be looking for any and every opportunity to increase their value as employees--so give them those opportunities. Compensation is critical, as recent research proves. But it's not the only carrot. Today's top talent also wants to learn, work with people they like, and work for companies with solid brands and reputations. These candidates are researching you and your company on sites like Glassdoor, before ever applying for your jobs--so you had better be sure you're represented well and that your company culture is clearly communicated.
Given the competition you face, your ability to hire the talent you need depends on how well you market and sell your company. Think of it like packaging a product or service. You need to position yourself to the right target audience, and continually expand your marketing and sales efforts. You have to create a great "shopping" experience in your application and interview processes. Candidates don't want lengthy and annoying forms to complete, and they don't want to sit in multiple interviews or wait to hear back from you. It's your duty as a competitive recruiter to be quick and decisive--or risk losing talent. Plain and simple.
I really think this is an interesting time to be in the recruiting business--but I also have some worry about this two-tiered market in the U.S. Right now, the situation is great for skilled job seekers. However, the underlying issue is the shortage of those skills. For whatever reasons, the educational and training institutions in our country have failed to keep up with the market demand for more educated, higher skilled talent. And if we don't have a sufficient supply of skilled and educated workers, then businesses will not continue to locate in the U.S. --they will locate in other geographies and countries where there is a greater supply. This is an important problem, and one we best solve soon.