Recent research from the National Employment Law Project contained a sobering finding. A majority of the jobs lost in the last recession were in the middle range of wages, while most of the new jobs added in the recovery have been in the lower range. This situation seems unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. It is our new ‘normal,’ which means you have to ask yourself, "Which range do I want to call home?
According to the NELP research, the choices couldn't be starker:
60 percent of all jobs lost in the last recession were in the middle range of incomes. They encompassed such occupations as construction, manufacturing and information, and had median wages of $13.84 to $21.13 per hour.
58 percent of the jobs created in the recovery have been in the lower range of pay. They encompass retail sales, food preparation and home healthcare, with median pay of $7.69 to $13.83 per hour.
Now, let's be clear. Retail sales, food preparation and home healthcare are all honorable ways of earning a living. However, if you aspire or need to earn a middle-income wage, you must be able to qualify for and land jobs in higher-paying occupations. And the only way to get hired in that range is by first building a strong foundation.
To set that foundation, you will have to change the underlying assumption in your job search. Whether you last looked for a job 25 years ago or just last week, you probably relied on what is best described as a ‘come as you are’ strategy. You simply updated your resume and started networking because you believed that you would find a new position with the skills and knowledge you used in your old job.
That strategy will not work in today’s job market. Employers are facing fierce competition in both global and domestic markets, and those competitors are employing workers with ever better education and skills. The only way they can prevail in such an environment is by filling their openings with jobseekers who bring a different mindset to their search for work. They want you to be 'new and improved' to make a real and sustained contribution to their success.
Come As You Need to Be
How do you prepare yourself to 'come as you need to be?' You have to invest the time and effort to build up the health of your career. Sure, you can keep visiting job boards and the career areas on corporate websites. Absolutely, you can keep on adding connections on LinkedIn, friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter. But, let's be frank. Without a simultaneous commitment to building up the strength, reach and endurance of your career, those actions are unlikely to establish your value in the upper income range.
So, even as you are executing your job search, also practice the rejuvenation of your credentials. In short, build 'career fitness.' It involves seven different areas of activity:
Pump up your career cardiovascular system. The heart of your career is your occupational knowledge and skill level.
Strengthen your career circulatory system. Your career’s circulatory system is your network of contacts and colleagues.
Develop all of your career’s muscle groups. The muscle groups of your career are the ancillary skills that enable you to expand the work situations in which you can contribute.
Increase your career's flexibility and range of motion. The more adept you are at initiating and managing the changes in your career, the better the outcomes.
Work with winners. Identify and seek employment with those employers and colleagues who will support and assist your quest to excel on the job.
Pace yourself. Set aside the necessary time and space to regenerate the innovation and creativity you bring to work each day.
Stretch your soul. Invest the time and priority to use your talent - what you love to do and do best - for the benefit of others.
There are a number of specific actions you can take within each of those seven areas to fortify your career fitness. They range from taking a personal development course at your professional or trade association to relearning how to relax and recuperate away from work. No single action can prepare you to ‘come as you need to be,’ but the sum of all seven can. And will.
The post-recession economy has created a bimodal distribution of opportunity. There's a range of low-paying occupations and a range of much higher ones. Where you are able to make your home depends upon how you come to your job search. And how you come to your job search depends upon how you approach the fitness of your career.