Where Did All the Entry-Level Jobs Go?

Nearly 40 percent of recent graduates are underemployed, in large part due to growing skill requirements for entry-level workers.

Author: Casey Gale       

Entry-Level Jobs

The pandemic has accelerated the reduction of entry-level jobs, a trend that gained traction after the Great Recession in 2008.

Entry-level jobs, once the traditional way to start off your career, are now few and far between. The pandemic has disrupted all levels of work, of course, but postings for entry-level jobs in particular took a nosedive in 2020, dropping nearly 68 percent per a Glassdoor Economic Research study. This isn’t a new trend, however, but one that has been gaining momentum since the Great Recession in 2008, according to a recent Quartz at Work article, when companies cut costs by reducing low-level positions for newcomers and recent graduates.

The problem is not only economic in nature but reflects a fundamental shift in workforce expectations. Employers today are seeking all-in-one, fully knowledgeable employees who don’t require much on-the-job training.

“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,” according to the Quartz at Work article’s author, Kristen Titus, who serves as executive director of the Cognizant US Foundation. On its website, the foundation is described as working with organizations to “prepare people of all ages to succeed in the workforce of today and tomorrow.”

A 2018 study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) of 95,000 job postings found that 61 percent of entry-level positions required at least three years of experience, pushing hands-on learning that most young professionals would gain in the first few years in the workforce into skills they must hone while balancing their college workload.

“There are more jobs available in the United States than people officially considered unemployed, yet the underemployment rate among recent college graduates — those ages 22-27 who are either unemployed or in jobs that don’t require their education and skills — remains at over 40 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor,” SHRM noted at the time. As of May 2020, the underemployment rate still hovered at 39 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

With the responsibility placed on universities to prepare students for the working world, on-the-job training has gone down, with only 30 percent of middle market firms currently partnering with educational or training organizations, according to the Brookings Institute.

“For many employers, taking on a leadership role in workforce development will require changes to prior practice,” the Brookings Institute said in a 2019 story reflecting on the skills gap. “Fundamentally, employers must identify and signal the skills they need, as well as develop mechanisms to recruit, train, and retain employees. However, many employers are not prepared to do so.”

The answer? Education should not end when someone receives a diploma. “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,” Titus wrote.

“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.”

Titus pointed to some innovative approaches taken by organizations to help recent grads succeed, including CodePath, which works with employers and higher education institutions to redesign computer science curriculums and help find underrepresented talent jobs in technology. And Management Leadership for Tomorrow, she said, provides students with personalized guidance and a network to find early career opportunities in technology. These types of initiatives, she said, are a pathway to closing the skills gap, and something all industries can learn from.

It is critical, Titus said, that 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,” she wrote, “is not a lack of talent, and employers should work to identify promising candidates and provide them with the training the need to get up to speed.”

Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.