Tag Archives: Industrial Darwinism

The Other 40% by Dean Cathy Sandeen

I have written many posts about the importance of a four-year degree, the economic value of education, and the need for liberal arts skills. I also have written about President Obama’s completion agenda to increase US educational attainment at the secondary and postsecondary levels. I remain steadfast in my support of and advocacy for all these ideas.

I also wrote about “Industrial Darwinism,” an observation that employment in growing industries tend to require higher level thinking. Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce predicts that by 2018 over 60% of US jobs will require postsecondary education, particularly a college education.

However, a question continues to trouble me: What about the other 40% of jobs? And, what about the individuals in those 40% of US jobs that do not require a college degree?


Manpower Group conducts an annual survey of the 10 hardest jobs to fill in the US. This year the list included: Skilled Trades (e.g. welding and construction), Drivers, Mechanics, and Machinist/Machine Operators. Those same jobs appeared regularly in previous years as well. Yes, that’s right. There are well paying jobs out there that do not necessarily require a college degree.

To further reinforce this dynamic, check out this great visualization by GE of US Job Trends from 1960 to 2011. Note as we move from 1960 closer to 2011, manufacturing jobs decrease dramatically (no surprise) and other sectors emerge, grow or contract. But the “Trades, Transportation, and Utilities” sector increases to become the largest, encompassing 25 million workers in 2011.

Such jobs are important to our economy and I submit that they have not remained static, but like everything else, have morphed and changed over time. The majority of jobs in the 40% require high level technical skills and higher level thinking—skills not taught in high school or not easily learned on the job.

It’s difficult to think of one job that has not become more technical and complex.

  • Manufacturing uses robotics.
  • Delivery truck drivers use tracking devices. 
  • Auto repair involves complex computer systems.
  • Custodial work requires handling and disposal of hazardous materials.
  • Childcare workers require knowledge of human growth and development.
  • Customer service and communication skills span most every job.
  • Bilingual abilities are required in most regions.
  • Let’s not forget the skills needed to start a small business.

Because of this, I like the shift in our thinking and rhetoric toward postsecondary education in all its forms including certificates and certifications as well as four-year degrees. And this broader notion of postsecondary education encompasses a way to serve the workforce in that 40% of non-college jobs.

The bottom line is this: To remain competitive the US needs to figure out how to provide postsecondary education at some level to nearly all the US workforce, those in the 60% that will require a college degree as well as the other 40%.



Broad and Deep Knowledge Revisited By Dean Cathy Sandeen

My last post focused on the importance of developing broad knowledge and capabilities (Four-Year Career).

In my further reading I have come across a number of ideas that reinforce this point.

Industrial Darwinism or “survival of the fittest industry”

The notion of “Industrial Darwinism” is reflected in this chart. Employment areas that are growing are likely to require higher-level thinking. (A perfect example: according to this analysis, “Think Tanks” are a small, but growing employment sector. Imagine that.)

Source:  imgur

Job Paradox

Then, there’s the notion of “Job Paradox” that the graph below reflects. Though these data end at 2010, the general trend continues today. Despite high unemployment, right now many positions remain open and unfilled. Certainly the current housing market makes it more difficult for people to sell homes in order to relocate. This may be a factor. But another factor may be that employers are keeping jobs unfilled because they are not finding applicants with the knowledge and abilities they seek. Something is not working.

Source:  The American

Liberal Arts Again

A fairly recent article in the Wall Street Journal  is a good example of conversation emerging in higher education circles. The article describes how business school faculty and administrators are considering how to integrate traditional liberal arts knowledge and skills (again, critical thinking, problems solving, synthesis, communication) into their undergraduate business curricula.

Vocationalization and Specialization

We hear a lot about the “vocationalization” of higher education.  We hear a lot about “return on investment” for degrees. Students and families want and deserve education that will lead to a good job. The prevailing assumption seems to be: the more vocational or skills-based a degree is, the more likely that will lead to employment. For evidence of this, one need only note the degrees that have growing enrollments (e.g., business and healthcare) and those that have declining enrollments (humanities).

Integration and Transdisciplinary

The opposite of vocationalization and specialization is integration and greater transdisciplinarity. In my own conversations with employers and community leaders in my urban area, I repeatedly hear a call for broader transdisciplinary skills. Crossing disciplinary boundaries can be a challenge. But we owe it to our students to move in this direction.

It’s not an “either/or.” We live in an increasingly complex, global, and technology-driven world. That is not going to change. We all need specialized skills for today as well as broader contextual, communication, and analytical skills to carry us through the career lifecycle. Broad and Deep.