- Workers in middle-skills positions, which require more than a high school education but less than a four-year degree, now account for about a quarter of "good" jobs in the U.S., according to a new report by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. The nonprofit research institute defines a good job as paying at least $35,000 for workers between ages 25 and 44 and $45,000 for those between ages 45 and 64.
- Those with associate degrees have reaped the most from job growth in middle-skills positions. Between 1991 and 2016, good middle-skills jobs for workers with associate degrees jumped by 83%, or 3.2 million positions.
- Although there has been strong growth in middle-skills jobs, workers with bachelor's degrees still nab the largest share of good jobs (56%), while those with only a high school diploma take the lowest number (20%), according to the report.
The decline of manufacturing has spurred the "transformation of the economy from a high school to a college economy," the center's report said, and good-job losses have come at the expense of those who have a high school education or less. To address the shift to skills-based jobs, the center's report calls for all higher education institutions to align their programs with the needs of in-demand industries and achieve better graduation rates, especially at two-year institutions.
Growth in good middle-skills jobs for those who hold associate degrees was 10 times higher than growth for other middle-skills good jobs, the report found. And as fields like health care and information technology call for more of these types of workers, many students hoping to become more employable are turning toward some form of higher education without the price tag of or length of time to complete a four-year degree.
To meet the gap between workplace demand and the labor market, more community and four-year colleges are offering stackable credentials that allow students to learn relevant skills without committing to a full degree program. There are several benefits to the approach, the Lumina Foundation has said, including businesses getting better-trained employees to fit their needs, though it advises ongoing assessments by the industry.
Some companies that have grown frustrated in their search for qualified workers have collaborated with community colleges to offer courses that better prepare students for the workplace. Google, for example, partnered with 25 community colleges to provide a certificate program to train IT support specialists, an in-demand profession with a $52,000 median salary. Likewise, Amazon is offering a 15-credit cloud computing certification with a group of Los Angeles area community colleges.
Large public universities are using similar approaches. Penn State recently added niche graduate certificates in counterrorism and cyber threat analytics, and Virginia Commonwealth University offers a training program for disadvantaged individuals that teaches construction basics and links them with job opportunities.