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All-staff opinion column

What fears do you have about the job market? What's higher education's role in preparing students?

ABBI COBB, JOSHUA DAUSENER, and KYLE DAY

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The role of higher education in the current job market seems to become less and less clear to me as I near my senior year of my undergraduate. Higher education plays a vital role in increasing access to employment opportunities, but it certainly doesn’t provide the privilege of security it once did.

I have several friends and classmates that are graduating with a BA in May or have graduated in past semesters. An important observation I’ve noted in interactions with many of my graduating peers is that it’s better to leave some questions unasked.

I no longer ask them if they’ve searched for or found a job. I don’t even ask them what they want to do after graduation. I typically wait for these details to be shared voluntarily, because the sense of insecurity and uncertainty in conversations with recent or soon-to-be graduates is overwhelming, even for me.

I’d rather skip those questions to avoid my brief consolation period that consists of variations of “I’m sure you’ll find something.” 

The wavering role of higher education in the current job market is the source of most of my career-related concerns. I realize that a BA in sociology and criminology won’t cut it in terms of achieving the goals that I’ve determined. I almost have no choice other than continuing my education if I want to do something I enjoy and am proud of.

Furthermore, upon attaining the education I deem necessary, the next concern will likely be where I can find a job. I’m pretty sure that the job market here in Iowa cannot and will not have much to offer me, forcing me to either relocate or settle for a position here.

While higher education tends to afford graduates more options than those without college degrees, it simply does not warrant the confidence in employability that it used to.

-Abbi Cobb

The biggest concern in the US job market is the automation and digitalization of the work force. Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column regarding the issue of automation and the lack of preparation for the tremendous impact this will have on the US job market.

A recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that over a third, 38%, of US jobs would be at a “high risk” of automation by the 2030s. The fields cited as having the highest risk were manufacturing, transportation, and storage. Another field of work that could soon be decimated is retail.

Automation and the rise of e-commerce giants such as Amazon have begun to harm employment at conventional retail stores. Since October, 89,000 American retail employees have been laid off; a number higher than the number of people employed by the entire US coal industry. One in 10 Americans work in retail. If Donald Trump cares about the common worker, where is the rhetoric in bringing back retail jobs, given that the industry is hemorrhaging far more jobs than coal?

President Trump and his administration’s handling of the job market is at best misguided. Instead of preparing American workers for tomorrow and ensuring a smooth transition into an uncertain future, the president and his administration insist on trying to bring back jobs that will likely soon be obsolete.

If the president truly cared about coal miners, he would prepare them for stable, promising careers in fields such as green energy instead of trying to back coal and manufacturing jobs that are increasingly being left behind and made obsolete.

-Joshua Dausener

I went to the premiere of “Into the Woods” by UNI Theater last Friday (a great show, by the way, congrats to all involved), and noticed in the program the written desire of one of the cast members to move to a “major city” after graduation.

Urban, coastal life in the US has a powerful pull over us, with the literature we read and watch being written about characters living as close to the ocean and as far away from open spaces as possible (NYC, LA, DC, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, etc.). We are practically trained to associate such places and cities with prosperity, pleasure, and progress, and “middle America” with poverty, pain, and primitiveness, with whole states being left in economic limbo (or worse, especially for smaller towns).

Fortunately, this trend is already beginning to reverse itself, with states like New York and California enduring recent net losses in population rather than gains for the first time in decades, and subsequent economic flourishing finding its way to great places like Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, and Utah (and yes, even you, Nebraska). But this only happens when people decide to make it happen; that is, when people see their homes as beautiful and lovely, and choose to work to make them even better places to be.

I know not exactly what future you see for yourselves, and wherever you end up, I wish you all the best. And while I share your legitimate concerns with the future of the U.S. job market (whether it’s automation, globalization, or other factors), I hope that you at least take the time to look beyond the perceived “power centers” of our society to secure your future.

Look for places for which you will be good, not just those that are good for you; places that need your talents and your passion to live and thrive. You may not impact as many people, but those around you will likely feel your impact more dramatically that otherwise. They themselves might just have an even greater impact on you, as well.

-Kyle Day

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All-staff opinion column