I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how underemployment is going to remain persistent even as the economy recovers.[i] Underemployment refers to skilled workers doing jobs that do not require their level of education. For example, someone who recently graduated with a degree in marketing who is working in a coffee shop making a little more than minimum wage. There are a few ways practicing a skills-based approach alleviates the problem of underemployment.
First, you define your professional experience and knowledge as a skill set rather than as a degree or career so you are more flexible to adapt to the current job market. Your skill set is comprised of transferable and technical skills. Transferable skills – such as writing, computational thinking, and problem solving – can be utilized across disciplines and subjects. You should be able to construct a list of many different career paths based on your skill set. Perhaps you have to spend some time learning a technical skill before applying to a career you had not targeted earlier. Let me provide an example.
Jim graduated with a degree in marketing and is seeking a marketing position setting up website promotions. There were few openings for this type of position; however, through his job searching he realized interpreting web analytics is a hot opportunity. He has no prior experience with web analytics but could learn it fairly quickly by taking an online course. And many of the skills he learned while getting his marketing degree are relevant for this opportunity. So by adding a technical skill of web analytics to his skill set, Jim increases his chances of becoming employed.
Second, you find ways to make any job an opportunity to develop your skills; your job becomes a stepping stone to something in the future. Many young professionals have to settle for a job because they need to earn an income, so they find a job that is not necessarily aligned with their capabilities or career objectives. Nevertheless, no matter what the job, they should find ways to build skills. For instance, using the example above, a coffee shop employee volunteers to build a website that promotes the coffee shop for free (there are many free website builders to choose from); so a seemingly dead-end job becomes an opportunity to build web development and marketing promotion skills.
Third, you build the skills necessary to reach a longer term career on your own time. So as you are working at the coffee shop to earn an income, you spend the afterhours building an expertise with your skills. You may choose to volunteer, take an online or on-site course, or read a book to advance you expertise with skills. Whatever way you choose, you become more marketable for future opportunities by fine-tuning your skills. Building skills is more efficient and accessible and less expensive than adding degrees.