Pay attention to your online pedigree

MARIA SLADE
Last updated 12:25 07/02/2014

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OPINION: Unlimited magazine is recruiting for a new staff member at the moment, and going through the CVs has been a fascinating exercise.

If I was a young reporter looking for a job today I probably wouldn't hire me. I don't have a blog, and wouldn't have the first clue how to design a website. My social media presence is rudimentary and retiring. Even my formal qualifications aren't much to write home about - the standard irrelevant undergraduate degree, and a polytech certificate in journalism.

In 2014 job applicants use digital technologies like basic tools of the trade. They understand how to self-promote and have no compunction in exercising their online vocal chords. It's all terribly Gen Y.

For them this is a necessary state. The labour force has changed shape, and while latest employment figures show the job market is slowly recovering it will never look the same as it did before the global financial crisis stood on it.

Unemployment is finally falling and at 6 per cent is now back at 2009 levels. But the growth in the labour market is modest. The rise in employment is only just keeping ahead of population increases and near-record labour force participation rates. In other words, there might be more jobs but there are also more people seeking them.

And expanding demand for labour hasn't translated into fatter pay packets to date. Salary and ordinary time wage rages rose 1.6 per cent in the past year, about the rate of inflation.

There are many explanations as to why the new dawn is shining precious little light on the working man and woman so far. The obvious one is that our newfound economic health is largely based on construction - particularly the Christchurch rebuild - and robust commodity prices. The construction and associated industries may be benefitting but no-one much else is, and farmers don't generally rush out and hire a whole lot more people just because milk prices have had a lift.

It's also likely that firms are absorbing increases in demand without putting on extra staff. They will be giving existing employees overtime, or getting part-timers to do more hours. Firms got lean and mean during the downturn, and many will invest in a new piece of plant sooner than hire more people to cope with a boost in business.

Another explanation is that increasingly there are ways around hiring people - such as using contractors, and outsourcing work offshore.

One SME sector leader told me there was huge interest from business owners in the recent story about a humanoid robot called Baxter hitting the New Zealand market. Employing people is a pain, and if firms can get away with not having staff they will, he says.

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This is the new order Gen Y job market entrants are stepping into.

"Futurists", as the Americans like to call them (commentators to you and me), predict that crowd sourcing business models and virtual marketplaces will increasingly define the job market. Sometimes called the "gig economy", freelancers of every description ply their trade through websites such as Gigwalk and TaskRabbit which match their labour with employers wanting a job done. Forbes identifies this new generation of employees as "tasksumers", workers who will take on small tasks for a fee.

It strikes me that to survive in a world like this you've got to have your digital wits about you. Thus we doubly disadvantage our lower socio-economic youth if we don't supply them with the requisite skills and education.

The scariest thing about unemployment is that it will fall only so far, and then we're likely to be left with an underclass who are unable to adapt to this kind of new-look labour market.

It's a lesson for Generation X magazine editors to pull their technical socks up and at least pay attention to their online pedigree.

*Maria Slade is editor of Unlimited magazine. maria.slade@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Fairfax Media

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