By Jenni Valentino, Contributing Writer
In 2010, University of California economist Sylvia Allegretto stated that a sign of a healthy U.S. economy would be an unemployment rate of 5 percent — a “new normal” figure that, at the time, would have required the creation of 12 million jobs. Fast-forward to the end of the summer of 2013, when the U.S. unemployment rate continued to hover around 7.3 percent and the New York Fed staff forecasted a more substantial decline in unemployment in 2014, to about 6.5 percent in the fourth quarter. Good news by all accounts, and especially auspicious for those actively seeking gainful employment. The facts show that new jobs are being created, perhaps not as quickly as many would have hoped, but created all the same.
Still, these available jobs won’t just come jumping out at the people who would like to hold them. In a recent Adecco survey of 500 top executives, 92 percent of responders confirmed the existence of a job-skills gap. Unemployment is high, yet many available jobs remain unfilled because American workers simply don’t have the skills to fill them. As such, just going to college is no longer enough. Less skill-specific career fields are oversaturated with liberal arts graduates, and more in-demand fields are often overlooked.
Students have a responsibility to research and understand their likely employment prospects after graduation and then choose a career and educational path with that understanding in mind. Colleges (especially career colleges, whose mission has long been to train students for employment rather than provide the traditional college experience), admissions representatives and the board members choosing curricula also need to take responsibility for making sure that program and supplemental education offerings align with the needs of employers and the best interests of graduates.
So where are the jobs? Economist Charles Lehman, founder of the Employment and Economic Information Center of New Mexico, said, “The best four-year career fields now and in the short-term future are in health (there is a particular need for nurses and therapists), information technology (such as systems analysts and administrators), security-specialized applications, engineering/math/statistics, teaching, technical sales and accounting. Other developing fields that will continue to grow are robotics (mechanical engineering) and genetics (biology).”
“At the Associate degree level,” Lehman added, “we continue to see good employment opportunities for skilled crafts: welders and machinists, plumbers and electricians, automotive mechanics and utility linemen, as well as long distance truck drivers and lower skilled health and IT specialists. At this level, there is a developing need for manufacturing technicians and solar installers.”
According to the gold standard of labor market predictions, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and its Occupational Outlook Handbook, his perspective is spot-on. Following are some of the fastest growing degree-requiring occupations between 2010 and 2020. Median annual salaries are based on 2010 data.
Of the 20 Bureau of Labor Statistics’ fastest-growing occupations (those occupations with the highest percent change in employment between 2010 and 2020), only 10 are included in the previous list. The other half does not require any sort of college education. Of those that do, the career college industry is more than capable of tailoring its programs to the needed Associate and Bachelor’s degrees that will guide students into these careers.
Considering, however, that half of the decade’s fastest growing career fields don’t require higher education at all, is a college degree still a good idea for everyone?
“There are many good jobs that do not require a college degree,” Lehman said. “A person’s goal should be a satisfying and productive job, regardless of educational requirements. I do not think someone should go to college just to be a college graduate. I would encourage some career counseling from high school or college career services or a private counselor to help students understand their interests, abilities and aptitudes and how those match requirements for different types of jobs. There are also a number of assessments that students can take online. They should look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook online (the bible) and the information on the National Career Development Association website and then work with an adviser or counselor to devise an educational and career plan that fits — whether it requires college or not.”
BLS Chief Regional Economist Martin Kohli took a different view. “Some high-growth occupations usually don’t require a degree,” he said. “But many of these jobs, such as home health aides, do not pay well. High-paying jobs typically require at least a B.A.”
Job prospects, security and growth potential are largely regarded as better for college graduates. So how can educators and admissions staff help direct their students into some of the decade’s fastest growing occupations?
“Counselors can help students prepare by sharing some of the information in our Occupational Outlook Quarterly,” Kohli said. “The current issue has an article focused on projected openings for jobs that typically require a B.A. This article indicates that recent graduates in engineering and computer science tend to have lower unemployment rates and higher earnings than graduates in the humanities and social sciences.”
“Experience in summer or part-time work or internship is important as well,” Lehman said. “Students need to know job search, application and interview techniques. I would encourage them to visit the college career services office. They provide all kinds of information and assistance.”
Of the 92 percent of Adecco survey responders who believed there is a skills gap, 44 percent thought that the gap was apparent in soft skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. Lehman agrees.
“As important as the student’s major are employability skills such as teamwork, interpersonal skills, decision-making and problem-solving skills, written and oral communications, creativity, initiative and organization/planning/goal setting,” he said. “Since job duties are changing rapidly due to technology and globalization, schools need to help graduates become adaptable, prepared for lifelong learning (and) willing to relocate, and should understand that they may eventually need to change career fields.”
Although it’s important to keep programming up-to-date with expected growing fields, it’s just as important for schools to continue concentrating on the soft skills graduates will need for career success. After all, communication and critical thinking are necessary for success no matter where the economy takes us.
CAREER COLLEGE CENTRAL