Education is important. Particularly in the labor market.
But sometimes education gets confounded with certification.
No Idea How to Evaluate Low-Skilled Workers
Last week a Forbes article by Adam Ozimek has caught quite some attention.
The piece in a nutshell:
(a) In the Labor Market College Degrees Are Used as Heuristics – Employers look at attended schools, majors, awards, and GPAs to infer certain skills in job applicants.
(b) The Same Is Not True With High School Degrees – Researchers found that employers do not use secondary education certifications/degrees for ability signaling.
(c) The Labor Market for Low-Skilled Workers Is Opaque – often the lack of information results in a less effective labor market.
Employees can’t be put at best use, generate less output, and earn less than they could.
‘Random’ Is The Recruitment Process
Unlike with white-collar employees, applications for low-skilled positions are less standardized (e.g. no LinkedIn to fall back), provide less comparable data points, and require repetitive manual input from the applicants (example form).
In addition lots of employers who hire for low-skilled positions also have smaller recruitment budgets (i.e. not feasible to conduct personalized tests; etc.).
Job applicants for low-skilled positions cannot properly signal their skills/education/knowledge.
The hiring process becomes a black box with a ‘random’ outcome.
Consequences on a Big Scale
To see the overall impact on the U.S. labor market we can look at 2 figures:
#1: Education Is a Not Spread Evenly by Race
On aggregate Hispanic or Latino populations have the lowest educational attainment of the U.S. labor force.
This is particularly alarming (c.p.) as Hispanics/Latinos are the youngest population group and will stay longest in the U.S. labor force.
Also Black/African American and White demographics have significant parts of their population without attainment of a tertiary education degree.
This puts certain demographics more at risk to be discriminated by hiring practices in the low-skilled labor market.
#2: Educational Attainment and Its Impact on Unemployment Rates
Statistics show a link between the level of education and ease of getting a job.
The correlation between education and unemployment rates can have different causes.
Unemployment 1: Skill Mismatch
- I don’t have a X degree, therefore I don’t have the skills.
- That’s why I don’t have a X skill to match the X skill demand in the market.
Labor markets change constantly due to technological improvements, comparative advantages (to outsource labor to other regions), policy changes, migration, etc.
For this kind of unemployment it is important to anticipate supply and demand of labor and set incentives and methods to upskill the affected labor force.
Unemployment 2: Information Mismatch
- I don’t have X degree, therefore I don’t have a certificate signaling my X skill.
- That’s why I don’t get recognized in the market for having a X skill to match the X skill demand.
As the quoted article indicates, some unemployment originates from an opaque labor market. Employers can’t source and assess large parts of the labor force and hence cause higher unemployment, higher underemployment, and a low labor force participation.
To solve this problem it would help to better understand which skills are critical for low-skilled positions and develop methods to infer these skills from alternative data points.
An alternative information layer for the low-skilled workforce has the potential to change the following:
- Increase transparency in an opaque job market
- Provide a tool for employers that significantly improves their recruitment
- Reduce discrimination towards job applicants that might have the skills but lack the credentials
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