Millennials have an advantage in the job market of the future


When you get sick in 30 years, a lab tech might have you swallow a nanobot that cruises through your insides collecting data before transmitting it to a computer that spits out a prescription.

When you need a new car, you might go to a 3D printer instead of a car dealership.

These are the jobs of the future, according to a new report from the millennial-focused nonprofit Young Invincibles, and they are more tech-centric and data-driven than anything we’ve experienced in the past.

That’s great news for young people, who tend to be more tech savvy than their older peers.

But it’s also a bit of a warning because right now, America’s higher education system isn’t graduating students who are prepared to take on the jobs of the future.

And the students who are prepared to take on these jobs are disproportionately likely to be wealthy and white, with minorities more likely to be left struggling to overcome the “digital divide.”

“Higher education and the workforce are not aligned the way they should be,” said Tom Allison, one of the authors of the report.

Not enough young people are enrolling in software programming classes, for instance, and too many are taking art history, which leaves unfilled software programming jobs open and art history majors who aren’t qualified to fill them unemployed.

One reason for the mismatch, according to the report’s authors, is that students don’t have a good roadmap of which degrees lead to stable jobs. Universities very rarely reveal (or even track for themselves) how much an average chemistry graduate earns, for instance.

Quite simply, Allison said, the U.S. isn’t going to be able to produce the workforce it needs within the confines of the current education system.

More and better data on earnings, the real cost of a degree, average student debt and other measures would help, he said. Some places, like Virginia and the University of Texas system, do a relatively good job of collecting this information already, but they are the exception, not the rule. A college ratings system, expected to be outlined by the Obama administration sometime this week, aims to provide some of that information on a national scale, but its impact could be limited because Congress is unlikely to tie how much federal aid a school can receive to graduation rates or job placement rates anytime soon.

The U.S. also needs to do a better job, the report says, of making higher education accessible. While the idea of printing a car is exciting, it could also spell the end of automobile assembly line jobs. As the report notes, an estimated 65 percent of job openings will require some form of higher education, from four-year degrees to vocational credentials, by 2020 and the U.S. is about five million degrees short.

Certain low-income groups are being left behind, said Konrad Mugglestone, the report’s other author, when it comes to digital literacy. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs are expected to grow at double the rate of non-STEM jobs in the coming years, he added, but children who have grown up without consistent access to internet are less likely to have access to them.

There are some attempts to equip kids with the digital tools they’ll need for success early on, but children from wealthier families are still more likely to be exposed to digital tools, particularly outside the classroom.

Ultimately, an increase in the number of tech jobs is a general boon for millennials, but, the report warns, “If technological literacy and analytical skills are essential for capitalizing on the economy of the future, our current path will only entrench previously existing inequities in our economy.”

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.

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