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Jobs in a Post-Recession Workforce Require More Educated Workers: A Shared Plan to Get There

by Jessie Turner   •  

Our country’s workforce needs have dramatically changed over the past four decades, making progress on the ladder of upward mobility significantly harder in the United States. Most workers today need higher levels education and skills than past generations in order to get jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. This makes the path to the American Dream a lot steeper.

As we recover from the massive job losses caused by the Great Recession, it is crucial that we evaluate the direction, makeup and requirements of a post-recession American workforce and prepare our young people for 21st century jobs.  A recent report by the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce forecasts job growth in America through the year 2020. The study finds that by 2020, 65% of all jobs will require postsecondary education and training beyond a high school degree. This number has jumped significantly from 1973 when only 28% of all jobs required some form of postsecondary degree.

Over the next seven years, the largest projected job growth occurs in occupations that will require something in between a high school degree and a bachelor’s degree, so-called “middle skill” jobs. These jobs require apprenticeships, industry credentials, an associate’s degree or other specialized training.  Some education and training beyond high school is therefore essential to get a decent-paying job.  In fact, the fastest-growing occupational clusters are healthcare and the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math.  These two sectors contain the highest concentration of jobs (95% of healthcare jobs and 93% of STEM jobs) that require some sort of postsecondary education or training credentials.

The troubling fact, however, is that our rate of postsecondary attainment is not rising with the rate of demand.  Should the current rate of higher education attainment continue, by 2020 America will be short about five million workers needed with postsecondary education. The findings in the Georgetown study drive home, more than ever, the need for responsive and innovate public policy changes like those advocated for in our Shared Plan in order to increase the rate of education and training which will connect young people to good jobs.  

To remove obstacles that prevent our youth from seeking and achieving higher education credentials, policy decisions must be made with the specific intention of connecting students to a useable qualification or credential that empowers them within a thriving workforce.  Examples of such initiatives include: engaging employers; encouraging multiple pathways to success; boosting mentorship; pairing college savings education with asset development opportunities; and rewarding programs that have proven outcomes. 

The study also explores the skills, knowledge and abilities that employers will require of employees.  According to the report, the most in-demand competencies include judgment and decision making, communications, analysis and administration.  Of all occupations across the board, 96% will require strong critical thinking and active listening skills and 70% will require some mathematical knowledge.  This tells us that we must adapt the way we teach and deliver information with a renewed focus on helping all students acquire these valued skills and abilities.

As the economy recovers and the workforce evolves, new skills, education credentials and adaptability will be required to succeed.  Postsecondary education will be necessary for two-thirds of all jobs in the market.  Innovative policy decisions and programs can help students, higher education institutions and employers make the changes that will be required to be successful.  As we look to the next ten years, we have the opportunity to jumpstart the American Dream for millions of Americans.  With collective action and focused intention, we can work to restore access to good paying jobs that support not just individuals and families, but also the global and economic competitiveness of our country.

Jessie Turner

Intern, Opportunity Nation

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