Nicole Smith is a Senior Economist at The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, co-authored Career Clusters: Forecasting Demand for High School through College Jobs. The report explores what students need to learn and what skills to attain in order to succeed in the economy.
Two views dominate much popular thinking on higher education today. The first view is that Americans are overeducated, underemployed, and that college isn’t worth it. The second view is that the only pathway to the middle class is through a higher education credential. The first view is demonstrably false, but the second view is also too extreme.
The more complex reality is that, while low-skill pathways to the middle class are being placed under increasing pressure by advancements in technology, those pathways still exist — just at a much lesser extent than they used to. This does not mean that anyone should be satisfied with a high school diploma if there is an opportunity for further education. The data clearly show that college pays off in the long run in the form of higher wages, better jobs, and a wider opportunity to achieve the American dream. But those who cannot, for whatever reason, go beyond high school should not give up hope. Career Technical Education (CTE) offers opportunities to these students through developed career pathways that begin the grooming process in high school, preparing them for distinct high-wage, high-demand, high-skill jobs.
Over the last 40 years, our economy has seen enormous change in what the labor market demands of job seekers. In 1972, 72 percent of all jobs required a high school diploma or less along with some on-the-job training. By 2018, that number will drop to 37 percent. Of those 37 percent, one in three jobs will offer salaries of $35,000 or more. So, while the old days of using a high school diploma as a ticket to the middle class are clearly over, there are and will be middle class citizens who did not attend college.
What are these jobs and who benefits? A few highlights from our Career Clusters ™ study are listed below:
- Most jobs that award $35,000 or more are in male-dominated fields: Manufacturing, Construction, and Transportation. Jobs in the Hospitality and Tourism industry, by contrast, carry an average salary of $33,900.
- The best paying jobs are supervisory roles in manufacturing. In addition to a diploma, these roles require extensive training and experience. Manufacturing supervisors earned $53,700 per year on average from 2007-2009.
- Machinists, mechanics, cost estimators, plumbers, and electricians all earn more than $40,000 per year on average.
- The opportunity cost of not attending college is higher for women.
The labor market demand for workers with higher education is increasing, but we should not forget altogether the workers who do not need a higher education credential to access the middle class and the American dream. We need to inform decision makers, institutions and individuals about the best ways to select the education and training required to achieve their educational goal. Career Clusters: Forecasting Demand for High School through College Jobs is a first step in that direction that answers the question: “Is it worth it? What can I expect for my career choice today and long term? And what are the prospects in my state?
The Friends of CTE Guest Blog Series provides advocates – from business and industry, the research community and organizations – an opportunity to articulate their support for Career Technical Education. The monthly series features a guest blogger who provides their perspective on and experience with CTE as it relates to policy, the economy and education.
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