by Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds:
In the age of automation, what’s scarce are problem-solving skills.
Readers responded positively to my recent essay on the emerging economy and jobs: A Teachable Moment: to the Young Person Who Complained About Her Job/Pay at Yelp and Was Promptly Fired
Many young people are stuck in the purgatory of minimum wage and/or part-time jobs: that raises the question: how do you get out of minimum-wage purgatory?
The conventional answer is, “get another college degree.” Perhaps this once had some value, but this now yields rapidly diminishing returns due to supply and demand: everyone else seeking an escape from low-wage/part-time purgatory is pursuing the same strategy, so there is an oversupply of over-credentialed job seekers.
As I point out in my book on jobs and careers in the new economy, Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy, issuing 500,000 MBAs does not automatically create jobs for all those graduates: credentials don’t create jobs.
What creates jobs are opportunities to earn high profits via developing profitable skills. Not all businesses are highly profitable; low-margin businesses don’t make enough profit to pay high wages.
Take a high-skill person and put them in a low-margin setting such as fast-food prep (very fast-paced and hard work), and their labor can only generate a limited value for the employer.
Value and profits flow to what’s scarce. Low-skill labor is not scarce–it’s abundant, hence the low wages paid for low-skill work. Workers with credentials are no longer scarce, with the exception of physicians and nurses and a few categories of advanced degrees such as computer science.
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