Participation in high wage jobs

Published 7:00 am Friday, October 2, 2015

Society’s push to get all young people into four year colleges has contributed to a skilled labor shortage. Vocational and technical offerings at high schools have been cut over the past three decades denying young people an introduction to high wage, high demand careers. To swing the pendulum back to the “glory days”, people have to be informed of the true labor market opportunities available.
There was most certainly valid reasoning for the reduction in vocational education. Many great manufacturing jobs were shifted overseas or replaced by automation and advanced production techniques. Before the shift, a high school diploma alone could get someone a job in the factory or oil field leading to a very nice middle class lifestyle. In 1970, workers with a high school diploma, or less, made up 74% of the middle class. However, by 2020, two out of three (67%) middle class jobs will require some sort of education or training beyond high school. Most of these jobs are now called “middle skill” jobs.
Yes, the economy is shifting again; and while not every young person needs to grow up to be a welder, neither should every young person grow up to be an accountant. Many of them, will hopefully grow up to be registered nurses. According to a ranking system utilized by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (The 50 “Hottest” Jobs), nursing is the “hottest” profession, carrying a hot factor of almost 28. The second highest profession on the hot factor list is elementary school teachers with a hot factor of 14. The average salary of a nurse in this region is $57,191; average salary of a school teacher is $41,713. The education requirements differ as well, for the nurse a two year associate’s degree from a local community college (Pearl River Community College preferably!) and passing an accreditation test is required for entry. For the teacher, earning a four year bachelor’s degree and successfully passing a test(s). Of the two, the nurse is considered a middle skill job challenging the typical stereotypes that stigmatize skilled labor type jobs.
This is certainly not a jab at teachers, or nurses. It is an attempt to challenge the status quo. Going back to the “Hot” list, there are many that fall into that middle skills category, requiring more than a high school diploma but less than a four year degree. Just to name a few, tractor trailer drivers, dental hygienists, welders, mechanical supervisors, electrical power line installers and many more that do not require a four year degree; but pay exceptional wages.
A report by the Mississippi State Workforce Investment Board (SWIB) indicates that of all of the jobs in Mississippi, 67% fall into the middle (medium) skill classification. Unfortunately quite a large gap exists in the availability of medium skilled prepared people. Only 31% of the available workers possess the skills to fill these jobs. On the other end of the spectrum, 14% of the jobs in our state are classified as high skill, which require four year degrees and higher, but 29% of the workers possess this level of education. Then on the other end of the spectrum, 19% of the jobs in Mississippi are classified as low skilled. Sadly, 40% of the available workforce fits this classification; another mismatch.
Currently, only 55% of the people in our state age 16 and over are working, or seeking work, a rate that places our state only higher than West Virginia; next to the last in the USA! The SWIB is proposing some measures statewide to help get many of those in the 45% that are not participating back into the system.
If enough people are informed, educated and perpetuated, placing personal success and dignity in all types of successful work, Mississippi will grow and improve. Attention must be placed on the actual economic needs of our state and not some falsified hope that everyone needs to attain a four year degree. This will help assure that too many people aren’t left behind and miss the opportunity for these high wage, medium skill jobs.

By Scott Alsobrooks

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