Researchers: Demand for specialized skills drives wage disparities
- Skills specialization and polarization are increasing wealth disparity, making upward mobility harder for some workers, research published in Science Advances shows. A team of academic researchers found that career advancement will be easier for some, but much harder for others because of vast differences in education, the impact of technology through automation and the increased demand for specialized skills.
- The research seems to show that a college education has become so costly that it is no longer the key to career advancement. Instead, workers are using their skills, knowledge, capabilities and social connections to further their career, according to a summary of the results provided by researcher Morgan R. Frank. In short, people are more likely to fill a job vacancy if they have the required skills for the position. However, given that some will have these capabilities, but others will not, the researchers conclude that the wealth gap will widen.
- To explain the polarization of workplace skills, the researchers built a "high-resolution network of interconnected skills" called Skillscape. Researchers summarized that socio-economic skills, such as negotiation and mathematics, tend to earn workers higher annual salaries than sensory-physical skills, which require physical capabilities and manual dexterity. Their conclusion is that skill polarization leads to job polarization and therefore widens the gap between high- and low-wage earners.
Employers are already looking at job candidates' credentials differently, in part because of the tight labor market. For example, recruiters are focusing on skills sets, not just college degrees, to fill job vacancies. The theory is that if people have the required skills, they're likely capable of doing the job. Organizations might need to shift their focus on skills and capabilities for the future of work and HR leaders' role in the transformation.
Technology through automation and artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to impact even more jobs, especially those requiring physical skills such as dexterity, and increase the demand for more specialization in higher end jobs. But HR will need to prepare for the arrival of these technologies well in advance of their adoption.
Wage disparity is likely a bigger socio-economic factor for workers than employers. However, as education becomes out of reach for more workers and automation replaces others, employers might need to put more resources into training and development to address the skills disparity and fill jobs.