Steve McDonald Discusses Work & Labor Markets

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    • 00:00


    • 00:17

      STEVE MCDONALD: Well, so work is a life fulfilling activity.It's activity that's done-- it's not just paid employment,but it could be unpaid domestic labor.It's the activity that gives us fulfillment.And so while work is so incredibly importantwithin life, it's the main activity

    • 00:37

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: that we engage in life.It's a critical part of our identity, and who we are.The kind of work that we do really helps to define us.And it's critical for the resources.It provides important economic resources,but also has tremendous value with regardto life satisfaction and those sort of things.

    • 01:00

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: So it's absolutely essential.So what better to study than work?And in terms of labor markets, labor marketsrefers to the allocation of people to work positions.And because working positions are so important in lifeand provide such access to resources and identityand these sort of things, gettinga really good understanding of how people are allocated

    • 01:22

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: to those jobs is essential.Well, I think in some ways it differs.The conventional definition differsfrom the scholarly definition in that a lotof people, when they think about work,they only think about paid employment.

    • 01:44

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: And not really recognizing that when we do volunteer work,that's work, too.Or when we do work in the garden, that's work, too.Or when we do work in the house, that's work as well.And so I think that's one important distinctionis that a lot of times folks don't recognize the full rangeof work as it actually exists.

    • 02:11

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: Well, I teach a class on jobs and work,and we get students from all across campus that wantto take that type of class.And the vast majority of them wantto know how I can get a job, you know,how they can get their jobs.And so I think it's valuable in that senseto have a good understanding about work and labor markets,just from a personal perspective.

    • 02:32

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: But I think it's also important in terms of getting a fullerview of work in labor markets and howit is that people end up getting their jobs.Because oftentimes we have kind of conventional assumptionsabout work and labor markets.And a lot of it surrounds this ideaabout this kind of achievement ideology,

    • 02:53

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: that the people that get ahead and get really good jobsare the ones that really work hard.And there is a point to that.That's really important.But a lot of times we miss out on the important kindof structural elements of this recognitionthat the reason why some people get really good jobsis also about social networks.It's also about personal characteristics like race,

    • 03:15

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: ethnicity, it's where you come from,culture, all these kinds of other thingsthat can serve as-- they can helpto facilitate some people getting jobs,but also serve as a challenge for others.So I think understanding working labor marketsin a full, detailed sort of way is really importantbecause it helps to give you a better understanding overall

    • 03:35

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: of success in life.Well, I think one thing is we're getting really good data.A lot of the data that we have, at least in termsof studying the kind of things that I study like job finding,

    • 03:58

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: job matching kinds of things-- a lot of datatends to be survey data that we use oftentimes.And it tends to be sometimes employer-based data, solike an individual firm and their hiring practices,and those sort of things.And some of those data are hard to come by.Some of the data, especially the survey data,

    • 04:18

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: really detailed stuff, it has good information on networksand longitudinal data on careers.Some of it is kind of old.And the labor market has changed a lot.So I think it's a real challenge to get good data.But I will say that there's a lot of opportunitywith regard to new sources of data and information.With the advent of the internet, now we

    • 04:38

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: have all these job posting boardsthat have these huge storehouses of these huge databasesthat you can potentially access.You have social media websites like LinkedInthat provide great information about professional networks.And so the extent to which we canstart to tap into those sorts of data,I think it's really going to help usin terms of doing more research in the area.

    • 05:08

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: Well, I'm not sure there was a single event.But I was always interested in the question about why it isthat some people succeed and others don't.And I was never really satisfied with someof the conventional explanations about it,in terms of these ideas about where if you worked reallyhard, then you'll succeed.I think in part my skepticism was born out

    • 05:28

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: of the personal experiences of the peoplethat I knew that didn't fit that model.Folks that worked really hard, but weren'table to really get ahead.Or other folks that I wondered why did they everget ahead in the first place?And so I was always kind of curious about that.And when I was in graduate schoolI read Mark Granovetter's Getting a Job.

    • 05:49

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: And this was his PhD thesis.And it was written in the 1970s, but it was a real turning pointfor me because he focused in on-- I guess there are a couplethings that are important.One is that he focused in on the question of how itis that people got their jobs.And one of things that he said wasthat a lot of the general assumptions that wehave about it are fairly vague.

    • 06:12

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: And they come from economic research.It basically suggests that the waythat people are matched to jobs is mainlythrough supply and demand.That you have a supply for jobs and you have a demand for jobs,and they just kind of meet up at some point.And it's very unsatisfactory, in termsof trying to figure out how do people actually get their jobs.

    • 06:33

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: And the primary mechanism that he identifiedwas social relationships, that really thisis the way that we're really finding out about these jobopportunities that are available.And that if we really want to understand this process of jobmatching, we need to understand about social relationshipsand networks.And I guess the second thing is that he

    • 06:53

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: noted that a lot of the accounts of how people find their jobstend to be very deliberate and purposive and instrumental.So if you need a job, you go out and you search for one.You engage in a job search, and youdo job search kinds of activities and thingslike that.And then you receive a series of job offers.And then you select one.

    • 07:13

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: And then you're hired.And it doesn't really work that way.I think for so many people, they get their jobsin a very-- oftentimes it's far more serendipitous.And there's chance that's involved.And all these things that go on in the backgroundthat we really don't know-- how is it that I got this job

    • 07:33

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: lead from someone?And one of things that I found in my researchwas that about one third of individuals that are currentlyemployed get their jobs without engaging in any sort of jobsearch whatsoever.They get these things through unsolicited job leads

    • 07:55

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: that are brought to them through their network connections.And so a lot of this process by which people are actuallymatched to their jobs, in addition tobeing network-based, is also fairly hidden and mysterious.And people describe it that way a lot of times.They say, oh, I ran into somebody in the elevator,and these sort of things.So it's very kind of mysterious, hidden process.And that's very intriguing to try to study that.

    • 08:18

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: And so when I read that, it really changed my life.And I realized what it is that I wantedto do and find out about.And it's more even among management-- roughly about halfof managers get their jobs without engagingin any sort of job search whatsoever.And I think that's the other element of this, too, that's

    • 08:38

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: really interesting to me is that it's not just about how peopleare finding jobs in general.It's that there's such variabilityin the process across jobs with different income and statuslevels.And so you would think, we think about thisas being a very meritocratic sort of processby which the best people are matched to the best jobs.

    • 08:58

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: We see that a lot of the networking activity and a lotof this hidden, unsolicited activityactually goes on at the top, that people are gettingthese jobs because they're being informally recruited into them,rather than some sort of competition modelthat we tend to think about in termsof how people find their jobs.

    • 09:21

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: Yes, so another is Nan Lin.He has done this amazing theory about social capital.And so when we think about how networks matter,this is, I think, a really key part of the explanation--is that network service resources--they provide resources, access to things like informationor influence or status and those sort of things

    • 09:43

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: that can be really helpful in terms of job finding.So that for me is kind of a foundation for thinkingabout the processes and how it is that networksmatter so much.I guess another one-- as I mentioned,I have a real interest in inequality,and why it is that some groups of folks do really welland other groups of folks maybe not so well.And so what's really important for meis the social closure theory by Max Weber, Charles Tilly.

    • 10:08

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: And then some of the extensions of that-- Don Tomaskovic-Deveyand his relational inequality theory.They're kind of built on that.And that's really important for thinkingabout how inequality gets generated, the mechanisms thathelp to produce that.And in my own work, I've tried to really think about itand how it is that these are linked.And I think about it like network-based social closure,

    • 10:31

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: essentially that the network advantagestend to get passed to people that you're friends with.You try to help out people that are important.And our networks are segregated by gender and race, ethnicity,and age, and all these sort of things.And so those kind of patterns of network segregationtend to lead to inequality in access

    • 10:53

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: to important social capital resources essentially.Well, I think the one thing is that, like I mentioned,the labor market has changed so much a lot of timesthat a lot of the theory is basedon paper-based recruitment and resumes and things like that.

    • 11:18

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: Now with the internet, it's totallytransformed how it is that people find their jobs.And so I think it actually opens upa lot of questions about what is the role of networksin job finding in this era.How does social media come into play with regardto how people are learning about jobs,finding jobs, being recruited for jobs,and those sort of things.And so that's a really kind of exciting thing.

    • 11:41

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: I had a chance to give a talk across campusat NC State for several engineers and statisticiansand mathematicians to talk a little bit about my workseveral years ago.And one of the things-- I told them all about the stuffthat I do.And one of the responses I got was, well,this is how it used to work.

    • 12:01

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: Now it's much more-- we have this kindof open market for things, for people and jobs.So it's much more meritocratic now.And I didn't really have a good answer for him,even though I was very skeptical of that argument.And it actually kind of forced meto take on a new research project, where recently I'vebeen interviewing in the Raleigh area HR professionals

    • 12:27

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: and talking to them about how they actually fill their jobsand how they use online information as partof that process.And that's been really, really enlightening,to get to learn more about this interfacebetween online networks and job finding.

    • 12:51

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: Well, it's fascinating.I guess that one of the big things that comes out of itis that there really are two different types of marketsfor jobs, and they operate very differently.One is what's referred to as the black hole marketwhere, for a lot of jobs-- especiallyfor lower-skilled, lower-paying types of jobs--

    • 13:12

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: these positions are posted online.And hundreds of people can apply for a given position,and as a job seeker you can apply, apply, apply,and never hear anything back.You're never even told even if you don't get the job.And so it's a very demoralizing process.It's highly competitive.It's very difficult to find jobs that way.And from the perspective of HR professionals,

    • 13:33

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: they're having to sift through hundreds and hundredsof these things to fill these jobs.So it's very tough market, and it's very difficult.And the other is the market for high end talent, essentially.This is really where you see a lot of informal recruitmentthat goes on, and recruitment that goes on via the internet.And so HR professionals for high level jobs,

    • 13:55

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: they're searching LinkedIn and they're searching Laddersand they're searching lots of these online databases.But also sifting through their own personal networks,developing their networks as a way to identify peopleand poach talent from other companies,people that are already employed.And so for the folks that are in this market essentially,they're the superstars, and they're the onesthat their social capital is kind of working for them.

    • 14:18

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: And they don't have to do much in terms of applying.They're getting all these sort of opportunities.So it creates a lot of inequality,I think, with regard to the opportunities that folks have.And it's a real struggle for folksthat are in that black hole market,but life is pretty easy for folks that are not.

    • 14:42

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: Yeah, that's a good question.And that's one of the things thatin talking to some the HR professionals that there aresome occupations or industries where folks are reallyinto LinkedIn and in others where they're not.There's not much of an online presence.And so the market actually works in a lot of wayslike it used to.But I would say for the most part the LinkedIn crowd is

    • 15:03

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: professional occupations primarilyand sales, and those sort of things.But some of the HR folks, like nurses,they just don't do that sort of thing.They probably don't have time to do that.So there is some variability across occupations for that.

    • 15:27

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: I teach the methods class for our graduate program,our intro to methodology.So methods are incredibly important to me.And I think it's really-- I thinkin a lot of ways sociology has a comparative advantage actuallyin terms of methods.Anytime you have a problem or an issue that you want to study,I always think that it's really importantto triangulate and use different types

    • 15:48

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: of methodological techniques to try to figure outthe answer to that question.And that puts you in a much better position.And sociologists are actually prettyheterodox when it comes to different types of approaches.We use lots and lots of different things.We're not just purely quantitative or statisticalor mathematical.But we can also use comparative historical methods.Myself I use-- social network analysis is really important,

    • 16:12

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: qualitative methods and techniques,workplace ethnographies.And so I think it gives us a real comparative advantage.It gives us an opportunity to really gaina better understanding about the processes that are involved.I mean one example of this is that again, notto pick on economists, but a lot of the timesthe economic models are very individual based,

    • 16:32

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: and tend to treat individuals as autonomous units.And social network analysis is really important,because it allows for an analysis of the relationshipsbetween individuals and a recognitionthat a lot of social behavior is not so much about individualthe attributes of individuals, but ratherhow it is that people relate to other folks.So I think it's absolutely important.

    • 16:53

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: I think that's one of the great things about the work and labormarkets area and economics sociologymore broadly, a real contribution that is made.Yes, so social network analysis is not just a method,it's really a paradigm in a way.

    • 17:17

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: So it's really a break from these more conventional waysof thinking about data analysis.So the conventional approach is that wethink about individuals as carriers of attributesessentially.And when you look at data, you have individual level dataand each of the rows represents an individual,and each of the columns representindividual attributes.And this is important because we can correlate these attributes

    • 17:39

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: with all sorts of outcomes and things like that,and it's very useful.But with social network analysis, the unit of analysisis actually the relationship.So we think about ties and the characterand the quality of those ties.So things like the strength of the tie and frequencyof connections, those sort of things.But also not just at the dyadic level, not just aboutthe relationship between two different people, but also

    • 18:01

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: the other structural elements thatare part of broader networks.So things like cliques and cohesive subgroups.And how certain networks might bedifferent in terms of density or these sort of things.So it's about the relationships that individuals have

    • 18:22

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: and the broader, structural elementsof networks that really matter.I was just at a conference for the EEOC, the Equal EmploymentOpportunity Commission.

    • 18:42

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: And several years ago-- this is reallysomething that was started in large partby a sociologist Don Tomaskovic-Devey--and he's done a lot of work using EEOC data.Before 2000, there was really not so much useof the huge wealth of informationthat they had on employers.And so him and several other researchers

    • 19:02

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: started to use that, started to build connectionswith the EEOC.And then for the last four years,they've had a data conference wherethey've brought in trainers, kind of investigatorsfrom throughout the country.And they come in, and researchers come inand present the state of the art with regardto the research that's out there.

    • 19:23

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: And it helps them inform the kind of workthat they do and helps to give a little more context with regardto what we can see from the research side.And it helps to develop a conversation.We get to see from the enforcement side what'sgoing on there as we try to deal with these issuesabout inequality and segregation within employment.

    • 19:43

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: When I was there, I presented some of my researchfrom the HR professionals.And I talked a little bit about-- what we talked aboutwas how it is that HR professionals useonline information as part of the screening process.And the extent to which folks are looking for red flagsthat they find on Facebook, or then they Google search people.

    • 20:05

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: And some of the potential problemsthat can arise when folks do that, how it can lead to thingslike gender discrimination or agediscrimination and those sorts of things.And so that's, I think, one good exampleof how the research can help to inform policy that's out there.

    • 20:31

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: Yeah, there are lots of different debatesthat are out there.I think, as I mentioned before, one debate isabout how has the internet changed the jobmarket essentially.And there are some arguments that it'smade it more meritocratic.Some arguments that it's made it less soand created some sort of a superstar market

    • 20:52

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: and actually created more inequality.And so I think that's one of the big debates that'sout there right now, at least in terms of thinkingabout job allocation.And in terms of networks, one big questionis about-- when we try to think about inequality,like for example, race inequality-- is it about accessto information opportunities?Is it about the extent to which contacts

    • 21:17

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: are willing or able to help other folksin disadvantaged environments?I think there's a lot of really good research on that as well,really trying to figure out in a more precise way wherethe disconnect is essentially in terms of opportunities.

    • 21:41

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: Well, I mentioned before I think in termsof the future of research and work and labor market,the internet has opened all sorts of possibilitiesin social media for various data sources that can be mined.We now have in a lot of ways better databecause we're getting this kind of crowd sourced data.

    • 22:02

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: We're getting better opportunities,better, clearer kind of digital traces of life and of networks,of careers.And so there's lots of incredible opportunityfor doing research in that, in those areas.

    • 22:23

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: In terms of the segregation, the segregationthat we see in networks is related to a coupleof different factors.One is that there are two primary mechanisms.One is propinquity.It's how close you are in proximity to other folks.That determines a lot of times whois in our network, just who we're around, right?And that the extent to which we can reduce neighborhood

    • 22:44

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: segregation, for example, by race that can helpto reduce that.The extent to which we can reduceoccupational discrimination or occupational segregationby gender and sex, that can help to bring peopletogether and have greater proximity for folks I

    • 23:05

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: think that those things can help.I think there's still kind of an overall--the other mechanism is homophily.It's that we tend to like to connect to other people whoare similar to us.And that's more ingrained, and it's a little bit moredifficult to overcome.But I think there are things thatcan be done to help to better integrate overall networks.And I think we've made a lot of progress

    • 23:26

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: in terms of the overall kind of public opinionwith regard to race, ethnicity and some of these things.Although a lot of the recent rhetoric suggests thatwe have a long way to go still.But I think there's room for some hope in those regards.I think the other thing I would sayis that it's not just in terms of the network segregation,

    • 23:47

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: but in terms of how it is that organizations approachjob finding and being more cognizant of the potentialimplications of the types of policies and practicesthat they are engaging in at an organizational levelcan have really big implications for diversitywithin their organizations.

    • 24:07

      STEVE MCDONALD [continued]: And a lot of times organizations espouse these really importantgoals, you know, wanting to diversify.And I think there are lot of really good reasons to do that.And yet the extent to which we focus on informal recruitmentpractices, especially for hiring at high leveltypes of positions, it can help to reinforce and reproducea lot of the inequality that we currently have.

Steve McDonald Discusses Work & Labor Markets

View Segments Segment :


Dr. Steve McDonald discusses the field of work and labor markets. He points out problems with the conventional wisdom that hard work and merit always leads to success. He highlights the occupational and social network segregation that reinforces inequality in the work force.

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Steve McDonald Discusses Work & Labor Markets

Dr. Steve McDonald discusses the field of work and labor markets. He points out problems with the conventional wisdom that hard work and merit always leads to success. He highlights the occupational and social network segregation that reinforces inequality in the work force.

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