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Is Automation Killing the Entry-Level Job?

June 09, 2021 Learning and Development
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By Sarah Fister Gale

We’ve all seen the data. By 2030, 45 million jobs will be lost to automation, and the pandemic is only accelerating this trend.

Many companies see automation as a boon to business. Bots are cheaper than humans, they work 24/7, and they don’t care about your company perks, career development opportunities, or diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

The problem is that most of these bots are taking jobs that once went to entry-level workers. That is leaving young people fighting over fewer and fewer career-launching jobs and companies thinning the foundation of their workforce. 

No One to Promote

Automation isn’t just replacing manufacturing and warehouse jobs. The automation of white collar tasks like generating reports, compiling data and answering help desk calls is decimating jobs in many industries.

“It is causing widespread disruption across the labor market,” said Marcus Casey, associate professor of economics at the University of Illinois-Chicago and non-resident fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, where he studies the effect of automation on the middle class. 

Casey predicted that automation will have a long-term impact on upward mobility for young people who can’t get their foot in the door of corporate America. And that’s bad news for employees and employers.

While young candidates may be feeling the brunt of this trend today as they struggle to find job postings that require little or no experience, employers will soon realize that eliminating entry-level positions is leaching raw talent from the base of their workforce. 

These entry-level jobs have historically been launch points for careers, giving recent grads the basic training, knowledge and network to move up through the ranks. They also cost a lot less to hire than someone with a few years experience. And assuming a company has a supportive and inclusive culture, many of these young hires would stick around for years, becoming vital members of their future workforce. 

With those “no experience required” jobs gone, the cost of new talent is going up. According to Casey Welch, CEO of Tallo, a Mount Pleasant, S.C., talent matching network, 60% of entry-level job posts now require two to three years of experience. Many tech roles can see their salaries double in the first three years of their career, which means entry-level salaries cost a lot more than they used to.

It’s creating an unsustainable environment. Young people with no experience have few opportunities to get started, and companies that thought automation would save them money are now struggling to find applicants with enough experience to tackle senior roles at entry-level wages. 

Related Article: Rethinking Jobs for the Age of Automation

HR Needs to Be Part of the Automation Conversation

The problem won’t get solved until the tech teams handling automation start including HR on the team to figure out what these projects mean for talent management, says Tracey Malcolm, global Future of Work leader at Willis Towers Watson, a London-based risk management and insurance broker and advisor. “HR needs to be at the table with IT and business leaders to recreate roles, and figure how automation affects workforce planning needs,” she said.

That includes figuring out what entry-level tasks still need doing, redefining roles to align with current needed skills, and establishing early development programs to train new hires to take on more sophisticated tasks. “Automation presents an opportunity to rethink how all work gets done, and to shift talent more easily to where it is needed,” Malcolm said.

Companies also need to re-examine their hiring criteria and stop relying on ‘a degree and three years experience’ as the condition for every position, Welch said.

“These filters have become barriers to job opportunities,” he said. It’s also likely preventing companies from finding great raw talent that can be quickly trained to handle complicated roles. 

Welch encouraged companies to look for candidates with strong soft skills, like leadership, innovation, problem solving and flexibility, then put training in place to teach the rest.

“For a lot of jobs, we can train people on the hard skills, but soft skills can’t be taught," he said.

Related Article: Why Soft Skills Matter and How to Develop Them

Hire Leaders, Not Graduates

In the future of work, these are the skills that will be most important, but hiring managers aren’t paying attention to them in part because soft skills are difficult to assess through a resume or LinkedIn profile. 

To fill that gap, Welch suggested using personality and attitude assessments as part of the vetting process to evaluate candidates and quantify their skills. Soft skills assessments help hiring managers capture comparable data about candidates, and open the talent pool to more diverse populations – which is critical for companies trying to meet diversity, equity and inclusion goals. It provides a balanced approach to comparing candidates, including the brilliant applicant who taught herself to code, or the one who could only afford community college.

Casey encouraged companies to reach out to community colleges to figure out what their current candidates are learning, and to help align the curriculum to their entry-level hiring needs. This way, entry level candidates will have the skills to take on more complicated tasks when automation has done away with those manual tasks.

“If you can’t afford to train them yourself, partnering with community colleges is a great strategy to get the skills you need,” he said.

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