There is a buzz throughout the economy now about how unemployment rates, which have been sitting at uncomfortably high levels throughout the country for so long now, are finally beginning to noticeably subside. Indeed, by any measuring stick, it’s fair to say that, even accounting for a certain amount of government “spin,” there is a real increase in employment for the first time in years. That’s good news, to be sure, but there is some not-so-good news that accompanies it, and it’s something to which we should pay every bit as close attention as we do the raw employment levels themselves. As it turns out, wages for the returning jobs are not what they were before those jobs initially went on hiatus, and there is reason to believe that wage levels will stay depressed.
I’ve written before about how the rapid evolution of technology has hurt the return to employment. It’s easy to understand why: as technology evolves and allows for the elimination or consolidation of workplace tasks, the people who were once needed to perform those tasks are themselves needed no longer. The latest casualty of this evolution is the next most-logical: wages. The rapid pace at which technology has come to allow employers to more easily consolidate jobs is also affording them the ability to pay less for the jobs that are returning.
What is happening in many cases is that the jobs that are returning are not the exact same jobs they once were. While companies were learning to get by with fewer employees, they had to get better at making those they had more efficient – in other words, they took advantage of technology to increase the productivity of each person. A mid-level manager who survived all of the upheaval and kept his job may now have multiple skill sets that span from the more traditional, to things like Internet search engine optimization, which can aid his company in garnering a premium presence on the Internet. For those workers returning who possess only older, more limited skill sets, that same company may have a need for them once again, but also may not have to pay the premium they once did.
The National Employment Law Project (www.nelp.org) recently completed a study that confirmed, like so many that have come before it, that the jobs that are being added are lower-paying. Now, there are reasons for that which nothing to do with technology, per se; for example, some companies, in a recovery climate, prefer to lessen their commitments to payroll and people by adding jobs that are admittedly lower on the food chain while they are still convincing themselves that better days are here to stay. However, make no mistake about it…technological evolution is a factor, as well, in that the ability to get by with lower-paid workers exists precisely because the better-paid workers are those that have become more high-functioning in the realm of the computer, in general, and the Internet, more specifically.
If you don’t have any experience with the numerous Microsoft business-oriented programs that are omnipresent in the workplace, you would do well to get very familiar with them, even to the point of gaining a certification or two that formally declares your expertise. Beyond that, Internet-based platforms and technologies are things that more and more companies want to see that their employees have well in-hand, so becoming versed in search engine optimization and other areas of Internet marketing expertise is a good idea, as well. The days of technologies like these existing merely as novelties have long passed, and are disappearing in the rear-view mirror at frightening speed. The middle-aged professional who was once thought of as sort of “cute” because he’s unable to send an email is now regarded as an irritation at the office, as an impediment to work being done quickly and efficiently. Most importantly, the ability to work well in the technologically-driven workplace will make the difference in not simply whether there’s a job for you in the recovery, but if the job that’s available can actually pay you a competitive wage.
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Bob Yetman, Editor-at-Large at Christian Money.com (www.christianmoney.com), is an author of a variety of materials on personal finance and investing, as well as on topics of fitness and self defense, to include the book Investor's Passport to Hedge Fund Profits (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) and the unarmed combat training DVD Thunderstrikes – How to Develop One Shot, One Kill Striking Power (Paladin Press).