Study: Internet Leaving Low-Skilled Workers Behind

A study from North Carolina State University found that the internet created a disparity in how employers recruit that favors already skilled workers over those who want to find a better job.

The internet has certainly created changes in the ways that people find new jobs, but are those changes always for the better?

The short answer? It depends on your vantage point.

Recent research from North Carolina State University lays out a tale of two job seekers—one who faces “black holes” of intense competition for lower-paying jobs, and one whose skills are so highly sought-after that the high-paying roles they’re applying for are extremely targeted and only open to a small number of equally talented candidates.

The report, titled “Black Holes and Purple Squirrels: A Tale of Two Online Labor Markets” [registration] and published in the academic journal ‌Research in the Sociology of Work: Labor in the Digital Age, discusses how this mixture of a large worker pool and an interest among employers in high-talent workers who already have jobs is negatively affecting the overall workforce.

“The overall picture is one of an increasingly bifurcated ‘winner-take-all’ labor market in which recruiters focus their efforts on poaching specialized superstar talent (‘purple squirrels’) from the ranks of the currently employed, while active job seekers are relegated to the hyper-competitive and impersonal ‘black hole’ of the online job boards,” the report’s abstract said.

In a news release, the university noted that the findings were based on interviews with 61 HR professionals, with a goal of better understanding the way that the internet affects job searches.

Steve McDonald, the paper’s lead author, noted that logically, the internet should create more opportunity by giving people access to a wider range of jobs and companies access to a broader pool. However, he noted that for low-skilled positions, the competition is often too aggressive, with hundreds of people applying for each role. And for high-skilled roles, HR professionals are actually biased against people who apply for highly skilled jobs through sites such as

“These positions are often posted on big job sites, but there is a bias against candidates who actually apply for those jobs,” McDonald said in the release.

This creates a situation that favors those who already have the skills to succeed—and leaves behind those who seek a better job.

“Taken collectively, this shows us how difficult it is for people to work their way out of the low-income labor market,” said Annika Wilcox, an NC State PhD student and a study coauthor.

(ronstik/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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