There’s a terrible irony of youth unemployment in the United States and in Europe: Millions of young college graduates can’t find a job. Millions of technical jobs go unfilled.
That’s because companies can’t find the right people for many jobs. (Please see note after Q & A).
It’s a big problem. Many companies are coming up with their own training programs, not waiting for the government to fix the problem. Still, some governments are starting to pay attention and are looking at private/public training partnerships.
Here’s the good part of this sad story: When people do obtain technical skills needed in the private sector, there’s usually no problem finding a job. In fact, companies vigorously pursue them, says a jobs expert.
There are more jobs than creditable candidates for these jobs, according to John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology and the Creative Group. He says “demand exceeds supply.”
Businesses, he adds, will offer these well-trained young people generous salaries and benefits.
“When firms identify promising candidates, they need to hire quickly and be prepared to extend compensations and benefits packages that beat what competing firms are willing to offer,” according to Reed.
However, many young people are not in this category. The problem of flawed higher education policies, of putting young people in a debt hole that it may take them decades to get out of by insisting that they all must get university degrees, has been analyzed by a gentleman I recently interviewed for a story I did for the Sunday New York Post Business section.
Nicholas Wyman, the CEO of WPC Group, offers solutions for your sons or daughters. Following his advice won’t guarantee success. But they will be less likely to face years of unhappiness in their 20s. His advice: Obtain marketable skills and not university degrees that are little use in securing the jobs of today and tomorrow.
Wyman is the author of “Job U: How to Find Wealth and Success by Developing the Skills Companies Actually Need.” He has studied and documented the problems of youth unemployment. He’s found many young people with university degrees, lots of student debt, but no job prospects. Most of our conversation never made it into the paper. So I have decided to include an extensive Q&A in this concluding segment of our series.
Gregory Bresiger: Mr. Wyman, please explain why you are such a critic of the traditional everyone should go to university mindset?
Nicholas Wyman: Funny you should put it in that context. Before my book, I actually had another eight bylines discussing this. And they were all around the idea of throwing out the window the concept of college for everyone.
Gregory Bresiger: And then?
Nicholas Wyman: My idea is to find new pathways to great jobs as a way to building a better economy.
Gregory Bresiger: Why is this often the better way for many young people?
Nicholas Wyman: There’s no question that employers I have talked to and researched say the nature of their employees skills needs to change pretty rapidly. And I think we are having an impact.
Gregory Bresiger: How can this change our economy, which is growing, but is still leaving behind large segments of young people?
Nicholas Wyman: It is creating a perfect storm because, without training, a lot of (young) people really won’t be landing secure positions.
Gregory Bresiger: For many young people, landing a secure position isn’t happening…
Nicholas Wyman: Yes. It isn’t.
Gregory Bresiger: Part of the problem you detail in your interesting book is the lack of untraditional career pathways in the United States; the overemphasis on traditional university education and the lack of emphasis on apprentice programs, especially compared to other nations with advanced economies.
Nicholas Wyman: Yes, it says very clearly that the United States has a long way to go. (See chart in part 2 of this series)
Gregory Bresiger: And so?
Nicholas Wyman: If you look at over the last ten years, the number of apprenticeships has plummeted in the United States. At a time when they really should have gone in the opposite direction. And if you look at the same period in the United Kingdom, the amount of apprenticeships has actually doubled.
Gregory Bresiger: The U.K. is looking at apprenticeships much more seriously as a tool to reduce youth unemployment?
Nicholas Wyman: Yes, some of these countries are looking at it as more than a labor market mechanism.
Gregory Bresiger: The British noted that some of their neighbors like Spain and Greece had tremendous youth unemployment and they wanted to avoid it?
Nicholas Wyman: In the U.K., they’re making a conscious decision to look at the spiraling youth unemployment in a lot of the neighboring countries. And you look at some countries like Greece and Spain, they can have forty or fifty percent youth unemployment. The U.K. said we would rather have young people involved in some sort of on or off the job training. And to be honest with you, it’s actually working. The youth unemployment numbers are fairly stable there.
Gregory Bresiger: But apprenticeships, you believe, still have a bad reputation in some quarters?
Nicholas Wyman: From an individual’s perspective, it’s often gotten a bad rap. Many don’t understand what I call “the power of apprenticeship.”
Gregory Bresiger: Well, you certainly understand that power in your life since you initially passed on going to a university so you could become an apprentice.
Nicholas Wyman: Yes, I do.
Gregory Bresiger: Still, some employers are still a little wary about apprenticeships.
Nicholas Wyman: Yes, they worry that apprenticeships are only four people in a building construction project associated with unions. That’s definitely not the case.
Gregory Bresiger: But maybe our central government is ready to see how important this can be to reducing youth employment…
Nicholas Wyman: Yes, the federal government has put $100 million on the table.
Gregory Bresiger: And so?
Nicholas Wyman: That $100 million is for partnerships with the state offices of the department of labor and some community colleges and some employers working in partnership to get training for training’s sake.
Gregory Bresiger: These programs must do what and what must they avoid?
Nicholas Wyman: There’s no use in training people for industries that don’t actually have a skilled need. So I’m very hopeful that they are trying to use this $100 million investment to try and close the skills gap. (Please see note after Q & A).
Gregory Bresiger: You’re optimistic about this proposal?
Nicholas Wyman: I’m really rather hopeful that they will use this $100 million investment to try to close the skills gap. At the same, this I hope will engage a whole generation of young people who might otherwise end up off the road or off the rail.
Gregory Bresiger: But didn’t government policies, in large part, cause this youth unemployment problem in the first place by subsidizing university attendance with the easy-money policies of low-interest college loans?
Nicholas Wyman: Yes, you’re right. But I believe that government has a role to play. But ultimately it’s up to the industry to decide what it wants to do with this stuff.
Gregory Bresiger: Sir, you’ve pointed out some state programs that are working, such as one in South Carolina. Still, I must confess that I have seen government programs to generate new jobs often spend lots of taxpayer dollars and they create very few or no new jobs.
Nicholas Wyman: Yes, I think your observation is right. As we know the government programs tend to work as well as the money is there. But as soon as they turn the tap off, the whole thing falls apart. So we really want to see private companies say what are our skills needs.
Gregory Bresiger: You want substantial private sector jobs that will help young people start out in careers. You want jobs that will be there long after a ministry or a government is gone.
Nicholas Wyman: Yes, but the problem we are fighting there is the cycle of governments at a state or federal government is shorter and shorter. And when I talk to employers I tell them that they need to take a long range point of view in skilled development. You can’t really do that if you are a company that is setting up a skilled building program based on incentives and handouts from government. As soon as the tap turns off, you’ll back off. I noticed that a lot of companies around the world cut back on their apprenticeship programs during the downturn and those companies were cut short as soon as the economy peaked up.
Gregory Bresiger: Why?
Nicholas Wyman: In demand people tend not to shift around.
Gregory Bresiger: And you’re trying to give young people the skills that will make them in demand. So they’ll want to stay at a company because they are doing well.
Nicholas Wyman: Yes.
Gregory Bresiger: Mr. Wyman, thank you very much.
Nicholas Wyman: You’re welcome.
Jobs That Are Often Unfilled
*Big Data Engineer
Launch or advance a company’s data initiatives. Earn between $119,000 and 168,000 a year.
*Wireless Network Engineer
Professionals who research, design and run wireless networks.
Annual pay is between $99,000 and $137,000
*Mobile Applications Developer
Develop applications for tablets and smart phones. Earn between $107,000 and $161,000
Organizations need this kind of professional to manage their Internet and Intranet. This will ensure the integrity of their emails and social media. They’re also willing to pay between $80,000 and $112,000 a year.
*Interactive Creative Director
Run interactive marketing and advertising campaigns. Earn between $100,000 and $180,000
*Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians and Vascular Technologists
Use imaging technology to help physicians diagnose cardiac problems. They also help physicians treat problems with cardiac and vascular system, such as blood clots. They also make some $29 an hour or about $60,350 a year.
They clean teeth, examine patients for oral diseases, such as gingivitis, and provide preventive care. They also educate patients in ways to improve and maintain good oral health. Salary: $70,210 a year or about $34 an hour.
*Medical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians
They collect samples and perform tests, analyzing body fluids, tissue and other substances. They make about $48,000 a year or about $23 an hour.
Vet techs perform medical tests under the supervision of licensed veterinarians and help veterinarians with animal injuries. Pay: About $30,000 a year or about $14.50 an hour.
*Paralegals and Legal Assistants
They perform a variety of tasks helping lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research and drafting documents. Salary: Some $47,000 a year or about $23 an hour.
Source: Robert Half Technology and Creative Group, Nicholas Wyman, U.S. Census Bureau
In wrapping up this series I will make a few observations: Yes, it is a difficult road for young people today. Many are over credentialed, but under educated. However, as Wyman and others note, there are ways out of the mess for those governments and individuals ready to think in new ways about the nature of employment in a time of dizzying change.
Maybe the road back from disastrously high levels of youth unemployment is to look at the jobs of today and figure out how to obtain the skills to get one. Muy buena suerte.
One last note: My thanks for the editorial assistance of Liam Judge, who is an essential part of GregoryBresiger.com