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Posted at 01:09 PM ET, 11/29/2012

The ‘economic graph’ and the future of employment


Businessmen and shoppers walk along Madison Avenue in New York City on November 1, 2011. (Spencer Platt - GETTY IMAGES)

Imagine if every job description, every job’s skill requirements and each person’s skill set and experiences were digitized and used to match employers and employees as part of a giant online employment network. Enter, the "economic graph" — a term used by LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner on Tuesday at a business conference in New York to describe how the company is re-thinking the power of the social Web to change the future of employment.

The biggest impact of the economic graph, which Weiner said would be similar to the “social graph,” would be to reduce unemployment in America. Once you know all the jobs out there and the skills they require, and once you know all the people who need jobs and the skills they possess, the task of matching people with jobs seems relatively trivial (in the mathematical sense of the word). While most economists will tell you that full employment is theoretically impossible, bringing the national unemployment rate down from its currently unsightly level of nearly 8 percent is not.

The economic graph, as Weiner describes it, could help address one cause of that unemployment: a growing skills gap in certain sectors of the economy, notably in the tech industry. Some tech companies, in an attempt to bridge the gap, are sending jobs overseas or begging Congress for new visas to bring talent stateside. The economic graph could pinpoint the newest in-demand IT skills and feed that data into the educational system, enabling the country to produce graduates with the right skills at the right time. LinkedIn’s Weiner refers to this as a "just-in-time curriculum" for the workforce of tomorrow.


A sign attracts job-seekers during a job fair at the Marriott Hotel in Colonie, N.Y. on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012. (Mike Groll - AP)
But there are potential potholes on the road to realizing this ideal. Number one, in order for the economic graph to work (no pun intended), it would need enough scale and heft that employers and jobseekers across the nation would actually want to use it. That’s the power of Facebook — once you have a billion people using anything, it benefits any number of network effects. So, for the economic graph, that means turning over to one company (LinkedIn) as much information about your professional life as you turn over to Facebook about your personal life and then convincing all of your co-workers to join in.

The other problem facing the economic graph is more nuanced. It’s not easy to translate your work skills and experiences into short pithy descriptions. In the old days of factories and farms, that may have been possible. But that’s a more complicated process in the knowledge economy. If you’ve ever tried to fill out certain forms and documents online, you know what I’m refering to — that moment when you find yourself thinking: There's nothing on here that really describes what I do. What’s the value of an economic graph if the answer is always “none of the above”?

Regardless, Weiner proposes a powerful theoretical concept. If you visualize the Web as a giant network, then all of us are just nodes on that network, waiting to be connected in new ways. No wonder so many up-and-coming tech companies have been integrating the "graph" concept into their elevator pitches recently. Who knows? With luck, a site such as LinkedIn could become a type of super-brain able to point you in the direction of jobs that are perfect for you, wherever they may be.

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By  |  01:09 PM ET, 11/29/2012

 
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