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Gender and the Future Workforce

I serve on an advisory panel for the Seattle University Career Services team, and this summer the panel was asked for our thoughts on the imminent gap between college graduates and jobs requiring degrees.  That Seattle U takes the time to think about these things is a big part of why I enjoy working with them.

I had a hard time not being a skeptic though, because this crisis just doesn’t ring true to me.  Setting aside the fact that this has apparently been looming for decades, I also think it misses an important fact: people aren’t necessarily going to retire the way they have in the past.  I think it’s likely that people will hit 65, stop working full time, and pick up part time or project work from time to time.  Plenty of others agree with me.

On the other hand, I found this article in the Atlantic Monthly about another trend in college completion very compelling. In it, Hanna Rosin details the ways that secondary educational achievement for me is lagging behind that of women.  It’s long, but well worth a read.

Since it’s such a big topic, I’ll focus on one thing here:

The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true.

We constantly hear about how the future of our country is a knowledge-based economy, and Rosin puts her finger nicely on what that means with these two sentences.  Although much of the discussion we hear is about educational attainment being the key to success, I’d argue that looking for degrees is really a proxy for seeking these kinds of skills.  In turn, the way that we as recruiters screen for these skills will become increasingly important.

A former colleague that worked on diversity hiring once joked that he would get a perverse pleasure in being able to say about a particular job “we need to figure out how to attract more white males.”  That scenario may not be far in our future, and it will be interesting to see how academia tackles this challenge.

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