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“The war for talent’s over, and the talent won.”
If you care about young people nowadays, stop feeding them such lies.
All that free coffee and fresh fruit and on-site gyms that we say is evidence that workers are beating off job offers with a stick will dry up in a few years.*
Globalisation and an inescapable fact of life – companies find their talent where it is cheapest – will make sure of this.
Capitalism is lifting people out of poverty worldwide and the world is becoming more equal. Many are seeing their living standards skyrocket and this is giving young people across the world better access to education and skills that will make them more employable.
This is a fundamental win for humanity. But if you're in a Western economy, it may not be so good for your career. In 1990 the world population was 5.279 billion and the people who could take white collar jobs were confined to rich, Western countries. Good education was hard to access. Going to university was a sound bet because it magnified your employability. Oh, and it was often free too, so no crippling debt at the end.
In other words, the middle class young in the Western world used to compete solely with other well-to-dos in a relatively tiny group. Then access to education and skills widened and they competed with people from working class backgrounds.
Now young people in the West increasingly compete with the whole world. The world population is over 7.3 billion and there are millions more going to universities and acquiring key skills.
This means the total global job market is far bigger and technology allows people to access jobs that aren’t even on the same continent. Skills are more even and things like a degree that historically elevated you to the top of the pack are now commonplace.
That’s why your local coffee shop asks for a degree when hiring new baristas: everyone’s frickin’ got one.
Now this is great if you’re living in a country where the cost of living is low. You can shout to employers in the Western world, “Hey, I’ve got a degree and I’m skilled and I can do the job for half the price!”
But if you’re in, say, the UK and you have higher cost of living – and especially if you feel the need to buy consumer technology designed to break within a year and drive cars that get 25MPG to the gallon – this is going to seriously hurt your job prospects and ability to maintain your lifestyle. Wages will not go up; they will go down.
Stop scaremongering!, I hear you say. That won’t happen!
Well, it already has. Educated writers used to get £25 an hour from freelancer marketplaces like PeoplePerHour.com. Improved internet access across the world meant workers from countries with low costs of living flooded these sites offering 1000 words for $9. What Western-based writer can make a living on that sort of wage?
So talent hasn’t won. Companies and the power of globalisation and unequal living costs will win. Again, this is great for humanity. But it’s been increasingly hard for young people in the UK to get a well-paid job over the last decade (just ask any graduate who’s had to spend hours completing an application that 500 other people are also filling in).
Now it’s going to get a damn sight harder. So, we could start encouraging young people to take jobs that require a physical presence to insulate their future earnings against globalisation, to make them realise that university is one option out of many, and that you still have to work damn hard to get your head above the parapet.
Or, you know, we could carry on talking about how the talent’s won. Feeding them stories about how star developers in Silicon Valley hire agents to shop their skills around. Lies about how the world will bend over backwards to hire them and that they are so very special and that their degree certificate is a gilt-edged teleporter to a world-class position at the hippest, most well-funded start-up in the world.
But hey, it could be worse. You could tell them to be a driving instructor. Let’s see how that works out when Google has its way.
*Actually don’t let the fresh coffee and fruit and gyms make you feel sorry for these poor, desperate companies. They do it to increase the size of their applicant pool – to put the negotiation power with candidates in their favour – and stop people leaving when they’re through the door. Because hiring new people is expensive, yo.