The ticket to a good job

The middle-skills pathway is experiencing strong growth, even though the number of manufacturing jobs has declined, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The report analyzed the three pathways to good jobs: a high school diploma; a bachelor’s degree; and the middle-skills pathway, which includes associate degrees, certificates, licenses and some college coursework. The middle-skills pathway encompasses 24 percent of all good jobs.

“Despite the common misconception that the middle-skills economy has hollowed out, good jobs in this sector have seen robust growth, even in the blue-collar sector,” said Jeff Strohl, director of research at the center and co-author of the report.

The report defined “good jobs” as ones paying at least $35,000 a year, an average $56,000 for workers with less than a baccalaureate, and an average of $65,000 when you include workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

In 1991, there were 15 million good jobs for people with just a high school diploma, 12 million good middle-skills jobs, and 18 million good jobs requiring a baccalaureate, the report said. By 2016, the high school pathway decreased to 13 million good jobs, the middle-skills pathway grew to 16 million good jobs, and the baccalaureate pathway doubled to 36 million good jobs.

“Within the middle-skills pathway, the associate degree labor market has shown remarkable growth,” the report said. “Good jobs for workers with AAs [associate degrees] grew by 83 percent between 1991 and 2016, a growth rate close behind that of good jobs for workers with BAs [bachelor of arts] and graduate degrees.”

The growth of good jobs among associate-degree holders has dwarfed the growth of all other good jobs on the middle-skills pathway. Between 1991 and 2016, 3.2 million good jobs were added for workers with AA degrees, which was 10 times more than the growth rate of good jobs on the middle-skills pathway.

The AA pays off

“As good jobs on the high school pathway have declined, the AA has offered high school graduates the most efficient option for upskilling,” the report said.

The share of young workers with middle-skills education who were able to attain good jobs declined from 44 percent to 35 percent between 1991 and 2016. The report attributed that to the growth of educational opportunities. While people once prepared for middle-skills jobs through community colleges, apprenticeships and on-the-job training, there are more options today, such as for-profit colleges, technology boot camps, and career and technology programs that start in high school.

Other key findings in the report:

  • While most of the growth in middle-skills jobs was in skilled service industries, there was also substantial growth in skilled technical jobs in blue-collar industries.
  • More than 20 million new good jobs were created in skilled services and the knowledge-based economy, while there was a slight decline in the net number of good jobs in blue-collar industries, particularly in manufacturing.
  • Skilled service industries accounted for 77 percent of growth in good jobs for workers with middle skills.
  • Blue-collar industries added 800,000 good jobs on the middle-skills pathway and 500,000 good jobs for workers with a BA or higher.

“Not everyone needs a BA to get a good job,” the report concluded. “Evidence is mounting that programs that are well aligned with the labor market can lead those who complete sub-baccalaureate degrees and awards to attain good jobs.”

The study urged policymakers “to ensure students and their families have information about the value they will get for their investment, particularly the employment and earning outcomes of different education and training programs.”

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.