Tag Archives: President Obama’s completion agenda

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%.

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