Yes, the clock is definitely ticking on natural resources as an indicator of scarcity, and, when it comes to labor skills, a new study finds that fast-tracking to the top in certain fields can now take up to 70 percent longer than 60 years ago.
Between 1945 and 2012, the duration of periods requiring workers to train for more advanced skills has averaged about eight years, according to the report, published Thursday in the journal Science.
“Yes, we don’t want to rely on antiquated skills, but I wouldn’t expect a 70 percent change over 60 years,” said Daron Acemoglu, a professor of management and director of the Future of Work Center at MIT. “It’s very, very fast paced.”
When it comes to skills needed in the economy now, some fields move faster, according to the report. Positions like computer coding have expanded by 400 percent over the last 60 years, but so have jobs requiring an easier, less complex language, such as Mandarin Chinese. And many occupations in developing countries are growing more rapidly.
“Many of the jobs have short careers, whereas skills will always matter longer-term,” Acemoglu said. “We are replacing rapidly failing skills with newer skills, and the old skills are disappearing.”
Here’s a closer look at how skill shortages are increasing:
Around 1980, technological progress began to accelerate, according to the report. For example, about 70 percent of children worldwide who make it to age 12 still live in rural areas. And access to water rose to 12 times the 1960 level.
“We have essentially run out of land, and there is only so much water on which to draw,” Acemoglu said. “So we have to go to the farther future for land management and more efficient ways of using land.”
Between 1990 and 2012, the number of immigrants in the United States has surged to 19 million. While immigrants are now more likely to own a home than native-born Americans, they tend to work in lower-wage occupations, which means that these occupations may be more vulnerable to lower-quality labor.
Wages, pay and contracts
Wages have risen slightly faster in the U.S. and other developed countries over the last decade. But wages remain low and flat in many countries.
“Increasing productivity is critical. But high-skill, low-wage jobs will dominate even more going forward,” Acemoglu said.
Theresa Sullivan, a researcher at the Heritage Foundation, acknowledged that there is a chronic gap between the skills and pay of workers.
“But this issue is not new,” Sullivan said. “We certainly know that in the manufacturing sector, that if you wanted to go to middle management or upper management, you needed a specific advanced skillset.”
Social development, health care
While older workers have some decline in the number of available jobs in specific areas, the report shows that the demand for health care, personal care and training for IT jobs has all risen over the last 60 years.
“This reflects our growing life expectancy, the growth of health care services and people living longer,” Sullivan said.
Warming is also hurting wages across the economy as companies go to more coal mines in Australia, now the second largest coal exporter in the world, to feed its power plants, according to the report.
“I can have electricity at home but I can’t afford to heat it,” Acemoglu said. “This would have been a problem in the 1960s, but now you can buy a U.S. winter jacket now for $30.”
In the U.S., mild winters are bringing people out of their homes to work during the winter months, according to the report.
“There’s not many jobs that are forced to be shut down during winter if we have a mild winter,” Sullivan said. “The labor markets are simply not as important for the economy as they are in China.”