Is the entry-level job going extinct?

It’s getting tough out there.
It’s getting tough out there.
Image: REUTERS/Andrew Burton
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The number of postings for entry-level jobs in the United States plunged nearly 68% last year, dashing the dreams of young job seekers across the country. While the drop was clearly driven by the pandemic, in many ways it was a continuation of a trend that began following the last recession, when companies looked to cut costs by reducing the number of low-level positions most suited for workers just starting their careers.

A 2018 analysis of 95,000 job postings found that 61% of “entry-level” positions required at least three years of experience. Today’s graduates are expected to arrive on the job with a range of in-demand skills they would have once developed in the early years of their career. This includes training in technical skills, fluency with data, and other new modes of literacy that are table stakes in an increasingly tech-driven knowledge economy.

Higher education and employers share a moral imperative to provide the digital literacy training needed to find a job and hit the ground running.

For years, employers and learners alike have worried about widening skills gaps, especially in technology fields. While nearly 60% of students cite career outcomes as their primary reason for going to college, just one-fourth of working US adults with college experience say they believe their education is relevant to their work. Over the past decade, only a quarter of graduating seniors report receiving a good job offer prior to graduation, while less than a quarter of employers believe college graduates are well-prepared for the real world.

These gaps are not emblematic of a dearth of talent; rather they are the result of a lack of clear education-to-career pathways.

Linking education to careers

There are plenty of bright, capable candidates ready to begin their careers, but higher education, workforce programs, and employers have struggled to link in-the-classroom education to the demands of the world of work.

Fortunately, employers and higher education institutions have learned that preparing for the future of work is paramount to our collective success. About 80% of businesses and 72% of higher education institutions say it’s extremely important to prepare people to work alongside emerging digital technologies. And three-quarters of businesses and institutions say collaboration between the two will prove critical to successfully navigating the digital age.

Yet according to the Brookings Institution, while corporate investment in employee education and training has exploded in recent years, just 30% of middle-market firms currently partner with educational or training organizations.

Students must graduate knowing how the skills learned during their time in college connect to the demands of their first job. And they should feel confident that their employers will continue to help them hone and evolve their industry-specific skills for years to come.

Education should not end at graduation

The prescription is clear. Employers and higher education must determine together what skills matter most in today’s workplace, clearly communicate to learners and workers the importance of those skills, and provide employees with opportunities for continual growth and development. Learners should have access to work-based and applied learning opportunities, wraparound programs that combine classroom learning with work experience, and pre-internship programs that lead to jobs.

Fortunately, there are some innovative solutions emerging, with the promise to scale. CodePath works with employers and higher education institutions to redesign computer science curriculum and deliver underrepresented talent into technology jobs. Management Leadership for Tomorrow provides students with personalized guidance and a powerful network to help them be successful in highly competitive technology internships and early career opportunities. Turing School of Software & Design offers immersive educational programs and accelerated pathways into in-demand jobs.

As these kinds of pathways are forged, it is critical employers do not filter out promising employees simply because they were not given the right guidance or opportunities to graduate as fully formed dream employees. A lack of skills is not a lack of talent, and employers should work to identify promising candidates and provide them with the training they need to get up to speed.

Entry-level jobs haven’t disappeared, but the criteria for what we believe to be entry-level has shifted dramatically. How we help learners prepare for their careers must change, too.

Kristen Titus is the executive director of the Cognizant US Foundation, which invests in initiatives to prepare people for the future of work. She is the former chief technology and innovation officer of New York and the founding executive director of Girls Who Code and the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline.