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The great job shift: High school alone won’t get you a good job

Not only has the economy taken a long time to recover from the Great Recession; for many the recovery hasn't happened at all.
Not only has the economy taken a long time to recover from the Great Recession; for many the recovery hasn't happened at all.

Not only has the economy taken a long time to recover from the Great Recession; for many the recovery hasn’t happened at all.

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce recently issued the report "America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have-Nots." The theme of the paper is this: “The post-Great Recession economy has divided the country along a fault line demarcated by college education. For those with at least some college education, the job market is robust.” However, “the economy has added 11.6 million jobs since the recession bottomed out — 11.5 million, or 99 percent of them, have gone to workers with at least some college education.”

The blue-collar workforce got a double whammy — “workers with a high school diploma or less added only 80,000 jobs after losing 5.6 million jobs in the recession.”

No doubt we have lost jobs to automation and cheaper labor in other countries. But the Georgetown report ascribes major job losses to another factor: “There has been a clear shift in job creation since the second half of the 20th century toward industries that employ a high share of workers with postsecondary attainment, such as health care services, consulting and business services, financial services, education services, and government services. These industries accounted for 28 percent of the workforce in 1947; they now account for 46 percent of the workforce.” This huge shift explains why “workers with master’s degrees or higher gained 253,000 jobs in the recession, and then gained 3.8 million jobs in the recovery.”

Whatever the cause, there is one clear remedy: College and other postsecondary education is essential to get a decent job in our new economy.

What can we do about it?

1. Talk about college. We all need to teach the young people in our lives that to have a successful career they must gain a college degree, a trade or a professional certificate in a field that offers well-paying jobs.

2. Work to broaden access. We must significantly increase access to higher education. It’s complicated to go to college. Attending and graduating from college for first-generation college students is especially difficult. Students need a guide to find their way through the forest of college admission, grants/scholarships and registration. Members of some minority and ethnic groups often have stark cultural and/or language barriers to enrolling in college. Once in college, they need to learn to interact with professors, take notes in class, write research papers, take essay tests, overcome language and cultural barriers to learning, and compete with students who are very comfortable in higher education. Transportation, child care and finances present major barriers to many who are eligible for college.

3. Help someone enroll in college.

4. Understand that our eight applied technical colleges (collectively called UCAT) are throughout the state: Bridgerland, Davis, Dixie, Mountainland, Ogden/Weber, Southwest, Tooele and Uintah Basin. Salt Lake Community College and others share UCAT’s mission of technical training. UCAT grants certificates rather than degrees in a great variety of fields, including diesel mechanics, machining, dental hygiene, HVAC, plumbing, other construction trades, culinary arts and advanced materials.

According to UCAT, “certificates bring 20 percent higher earnings on average than high school diplomas, and in some cases, even more than a bachelor’s degree. What’s more, 87 percent of last year’s graduates were hired in their field of study or placed in additional education.” Many UCAT students find they like school and move on to college. Certificates can usually be gained in a year or less.

5. Donate some money to a college or UCAT scholarship fund.

6. Get ready to freshen up your own skills, either in your current line of work or because you need or want to find a different field.

7. Encourage your legislators to fund programs in high school, college and technical colleges that lead to good jobs, such as coding and software engineering.

8. As a top priority, we need to offer job retraining for workers whose jobs have been lost.

The new economic reality is that blue-collar jobs have disappeared in huge numbers, never to return. Let’s invest in educating new workers for better-paying jobs and retraining those in our workforce who need a new trade or profession.

Greg Bell is the current president and CEO of the Utah Hospital Association. He is the former Republican lieutenant governor of Utah.