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HELP WANTED: New Report Finds Nearly Two Thirds of All Job Openings Will Require Postsecondary Education by 2018

“Essentially, postsecondary education or training has become the threshold requirement for access to middle-class status and earnings in good times and in bad. It is no longer the preferred pathway to middle-class jobs—it is, increasingly, the onlyway.”

About 63 percent of the 46.8 million job openings created by 2018 will require workers with at least some college education, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Of these job openings, less than 36 percent will require workers to have just a high school diploma or less, finds the report, Help Wanted: Projections of Job and Education Requirements Through 2018.

The report attributes the growth in demand for education after high school to two major trends. First, the fastest-growing industries, such as computer and data processing services, require workers with disproportionately higher education levels. Second, occupations as a whole are steadily requiring more education.

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For example, in 1973, twenty-five million jobs required applicants to have at least some college education. By 2007, that number had nearly quadrupled to ninety-one million jobs. During that time, the percentage of jobs available to high school dropouts fell from 32 percent to 11 percent, while the percentage of jobs requiring some education after high school grew from 28 percent to 59 percent, as shown in the chart above.

Looking ahead to 2018, approximately one third of all available jobs will require individuals to have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Meanwhile, only 10 percent of jobs will be open to high school dropouts, while about 28 percent will be open to individuals with a high school diploma.

“The implications of this shift represent a sea change in American society,” the report reads. “Essentially, postsecondary education or training has become the threshold requirement for access to middle-class status and earnings in good times and in bad. It is no longer the preferred pathway to middle-class jobs—it is, increasingly, the onlyway.”

Meanwhile, individuals with a high school diploma or less are on the “down escalator” of social mobility, the report finds. In 1970, almost half (46 percent) of high school dropouts were in the middle class. By 2007, the share of dropouts in the middle class had fallen to 33 percent. The same is true for high school graduates, 60 percent of whom were in the middle class in 1970. Today, only 45 percent of high school graduates are considered to be in the middle class.

According to the report, the recession is only accelerating the shift to jobs requiring postsecondary education. During the past two recessions, individuals who typically lost jobs were high school-educated males in blue-collar jobs such as manufacturing or construction. In the past two recoveries, however, those jobs were not the ones coming back. Instead, jobs were going to women with postsecondary education who worked in a service industry such as health care or education.

“Hundreds of thousands of low-skill jobs in manufacturing, farming, fishing, and forestry have been permanently destroyed because the recession has further prompted employers to either automate those positions or ship them offshore to take advantage of cheap labor,” the report reads.

This pattern is likely to continue in the future. As evidence, the report points to research from McKinsey Global Institute, which finds that 71 percent of U.S. workers are in jobs for which there is either low demand for employers, an oversupply of eligible workers, or both.

Meanwhile, the report finds a shortage of workers to fill the jobs of the future that will require more education and training. In fact, by 2018 the postsecondary education system is projected to produce three million fewer college graduates than the labor market requires. It notes that degrees conferred would have to increase by about 10 percent a year to eliminate the projected shortfall.

“America needs more workers with college degrees, certificates, and industry certifications,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce. “If we don’t address this need now, millions of jobs could go offshore.”

According to the report, the greatest intensity in the demand for workers with postsecondary education occurs in a cluster of fast-growing services industries—information services, professional and business services, financial services, private education services, healthcare services, and government and public education services. Each of these industries have workforces dominated—75 to 90 percent—by workers with at least some postsecondary education.

There will, of course, still be jobs in the future for individuals with a high school diploma or less. However, these jobs will increasingly fail to pay enough to support a family or pay a living wage. As shown in the table below, the top industry for dropouts and high school graduates is farming, fishing, and forestry, in which 91 percent of workers are required to have a high school diploma or less.


High School orLess

Some College,      No Degree

Associate’s   Degree

Bachelor’s Degree or Higher

Farming, fishing, and forestry





Building and grounds clearing and maintenance





Construction and extraction





Transportation and material moving










Food preparation and serving





Installation, maintenance, and repair






Of the nine different occupational clusters included in the report, only blue-collar and food and personal services jobs will hire more than half of their workers from a pool of high school graduates and dropouts.1 According to the report, about 80 percent of job openings in blue-collar occupations will go to individuals with a high school education or less. These occupations include bus and truck drivers, service station attendants, and mechanics. In the food and personal services industry, about 56 percent of jobs will go to high school dropouts or high school graduates. These jobs include waiters and waitresses, childcare providers, maids, janitors, and groundskeepers.

Overall, blue-collar jobs are still dominated by positions that require a high school degree or less, but even these sectors have cut down on the percentages of individuals with a high school education or less among their workforce. In 1983, 74 percent of blue-collar jobs were filled by high school dropouts and graduates, but that number fell to 69 percent in 2007 and is projected to fall to 65 percent by 2018. The same is true in the food and personal services industry where 70 percent of jobs were held by individuals with a high school diploma or less in 1983. By 2018, that number is projected to fall to 56 percent.

At the same time, the percentage of blue-collar jobs in the American economy is on the decline. Of the nine job clusters, blue-collar ranks second in number of total employment, but eighth in overall new job creation. Consequently, blue-collar jobs will grow from 33.8 million to 43.6 million by 2018, but its percentage of total jobs will fall from 23 percent to 21.4 percent. Blue-collar jobs also saw the lowest increase in real earnings—less than $1,000—from the early 1980s to the mid-2000s. Meanwhile, wages for healthcare professionals increased more than $26,000 during the same period.

The report also takes on the argument that increasing the number of workers with postsecondary education will decrease wages. It acknowledges that wages for workers with a bachelor’s degree or better have declined since 2000 but points out that the relative wage differentials over workers with lower levels of education have remained stable. The report argues that it is “irresponsible” to argue against the pursuit of a college degree because real returns have fallen, especially when college graduates can still expect to earn almost twice as much as their noncollege-educated competition even given that decline. “If we continue to incorrectly downplay the value of postsecondary attainment—and discourage young Americans from pursuing college degrees because real wages have dipped in this decade—this discouragement will lead to low-skill, low-wage work over the next ten years,” the report reads.

The report warns of a growing mismatch between the jobs created over the next decade and the education and training of our adult workers. “More than 60 million of our prime-age workforce who are 25–64 years old are still working in jobs that require high school or less,” it reads. “That economy is receding fast and those workers will be left behind: unemployed, underemployed, or likely stuck in jobs that don’t provide middle-class wages.”

Read the complete report at

1 The nine occupational clusters featured in the report are blue collar, community services and arts, education, food and personal services, healthcare professional and technical, healthcare support, managerial and professional office, sales and office support, and STEM occupations (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and social sciences).


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