Because I lucked out. Big time.
Here’s how: First, I graduated college in 2000 with an English degree at a time when that major hadn’t yet broken into the top 10 “worst college majors”. Second, after graduation, I didn’t jump right into the task of building a “real career.” I figured there would be plenty of time for that. Instead, I taught teenagers how to SCUBA dive in the Caribbean.
And yet, despite that rather inauspicious start (and thanks to the immeasurable benefits of a strong economy and my alma mater’s alumni network), I was still able to get a killer job at the Coca-Cola Company, a position that laid the foundation for what has proven to be a pretty successful career so far.
But now, a decade and a half later, I see the grim reality faced by recent college graduates – 1 in 10 unemployed and 4 in 10 underemployed – and I know that, had I graduated in 2012 instead of 2000, my post-college opportunities would have looked radically different. Luck, in other words, wouldn’t have been on my side.
Today, there is a “lost generation” of aspiring young professionals. In fact, 45% of the nation’s unemployed are between 18 and 34 years of age. And I think this is a huge problem. I created theThings.biz because we need a new approach to harnessing the potential of this intelligent and driven yet underutilized workforce. We also need to help companies find, evaluate, and hire young employees who will be valuable to them over the long-term.
So far, the dominant response to this challenge has been twofold: a push to address a math and science “skills gap” in our workforce, and an increased focus on old-school networking through technologies like LinkedIn. These are good steps but, by themselves, they are incomplete – and I’d argue they have the potential to be detrimental to our economy if they are our only solutions to the problems at hand.
In a world of limited resources, increased focus on math and sciences in schools and in workplaces means that other types of learning (especially the humanities) are losing support. As the American Academy of Arts and Sciences points out “At the very moment when China and some European nations are seeking to replicate our model of broad education in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences—as a stimulus to innovation and a source of social cohesion—we are instead narrowing our focus and abandoning our sense of what education has been and should continue to be—our sense of what makes America great.”
And it’s not just organizations like the American Academy of Arts and Sciences who believe the “skills gap” approach is incomplete. Leadership IQ, a consultancy that works with the likes of Microsoft, IBM and GE studied retention of 20,000 new hires over a 18 month period and found that when people were fired, “lack of skill” was the reason given only 11% of the time. In other words, the other 89% who were fired might have been perfectly capable of performing the “hard skills” (such as programming) required by their jobs, but didn’t possess the attitude (initiative, flexibility, reliability / follow-through) and “soft skills” (communication, leadership, research and analysis skills) that truly lay the foundation for long-term success in any field, technological or otherwise.
As for networking, it worked out great for me way back at the turn of the millennium. But times have changed. On a macro level, an over-reliance on this tool is problematic in an economy that will need a more diverse and dynamic workforce to better serve a more diverse and dynamic global populace. For decades now, there has been a growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots. From a hiring perspective, this becomes challenging when we realize that one’s employment referral network looks a lot one’s social network – which is to say that there is often little difference in gender, race and social economic status among employees and the people they refer. The New York Federal Reserve Bank published a study in 2012 that showed that 63.5% of referred candidates were the same sex and 71.5% were the same race or ethnicity as the employee who refers them.
Lots of problems, huh? And what are the solutions?
At theThings.biz, we want to address these challenges by fundamentally retooling the way young professionals are evaluated and hired. We want to open new opportunities for a more diverse population of smart, driven people who haven’t been able to get their careers started as a result of the stagnant economy and/or limited professional connections. We believe companies will be more successful in recruiting when they hire candidates based on what they can do as opposed to what they’ve already done. We believe a focus on “soft skills” – the defining characteristics that indicate how someone thinks and works – will produce a stronger, more stable workforce in the long-term. And we believe candidates can prove these characteristics through all types of experiences in their lives, such as school, volunteering, and jobs that, at first glance, may not seem relevant to the careers they are targeting.
“The right skills for the job” will continue to evolve, and effective workers will continue to learn them. We believe this learning process is the key. How people learn, how they think, how they approach problems, how they communicate, and how they work in teams are more important, especially for entry-level candidates, than whether or not they already know Microsoft Excel.
So we’ve created theThings.biz because we know it’s an unlucky time for young professionals like you. We know you have a lot to offer, even though your resume may not look like it right now. You deserve the opportunity to identify and attest to your own core, defining characteristics and then find jobs where those characteristics are most needed. It’s a new idea – and one that flies in the face of what most HR folks will have you believe. But I think it has the potential to revolutionize your career and your world.
And I’d love for you to be a part of it.