Helping Struggling Job Seekers Via Online Marketplaces

This year’s college graduates are facing one of the best job markets in years. Unemployment is below 4 percent, and the premium for colleges degrees is substantial.

But there’s another aspect of the workforce story that’s far less encouraging: Roughly 11 percent of Americans ages 16 to 24 are neither working nor in school. Fortunately, the technology revolution that is making it harder for many less-educated workers to find jobs can also help close the employment gap.

Online talent marketplaces allow job seekers to validate their skills and aptitudes for potential employers through standardized tests.

The ability to take valid and reliable assessments at no cost on the new marketplace sites distinguishes them from traditional job boards. Job seekers can see which jobs in their region align with their competencies. And if there’s a gap between the skills they have and a job they want, the sites point them to high-quality options for gaining those skills at reasonable cost.

Employers can search the test results of consenting site users to see which ones most closely match the skills needed for their open jobs. They can do so without regard to how or where the job seeker gained those skills. Validated skills and aptitudes, not educational pedigree, are what matters.

Global telecommunications company Vodafone launched Future Jobs Finder in March. It aims to help up to 10 million young people in 18 countries find digital jobs, such as technical analyst or cloud developer, with Vodafone or other employers. Site visitors take psychometrically valid tests of their aptitudes and interests and are matched to job opportunities based on the results.  They also receive information on available education and training courses. In its first month alone, 2.3 million people visited the site.

The Future Jobs Finder website is geared to young people and to digital jobs, primarily at one company. It also doesn’t serve Americans. But it’s easy to imagine similar sites serving states or metropolitan areas.

Such online talent marketplaces would improve communication and connection among the job seekers, employers, and the providers of education and training. All three groups talk about “skills,” but often mean different things, even when they use the same words. Online talent marketplaces would help move us toward a more standardized, validated way for job seekers and employers to communicate about the skills they have and need.

State and local governments, foundations, and others wanting to promote economic growth should provide start-up funding for high-quality online talent marketplaces We have the technology to build modern marketplaces that emphasize skills over educational pedigrees. Let’s build it. They will come.

Monica Herk is Vice President for Education Research at the Committee for Economic Development. CNBC published an earlier version of this piece.