In a recent speech to the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned that U.S. workers must be better educated if they are to find jobs in a rapidly changing economy. He said we must provide “rigorous education and ongoing training to all members of our society,” and went on to note that better education in elementary, middle, and high schools was needed to increase the wages of lower-skilled workers and to diminish growing income inequality.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), of the 21.3 million jobs expected to be created between 2002 and 2012, “professional and related occupations and service occupations are projected to increase the fastest and to add the most jobs, accounting for more than half of total job growth.” Six out of ten of the fastest growing occupations will require an associate’s degree or higher.
“Professional and related occupations” require high levels of educational attainment and are generally well paid. Most “service occupations,” which represent the second largest growing segment of the job market, require a high school degree and at least some on-the-job training. The third of the nation’s students who are not currently graduating from high school will not only be unable to compete for jobs as computer software engineers, physician’s assistants, or medical records technicians, but will also have difficulty qualifying to become home health aides, retail sales clerks, or cashiers.
Jobs in the manufacturing sector, a traditional employment route for lower-skilled workers, are expected to decline by 1 percent over the next decade. The jobs that will be available will require higher skill levels than in the past. A 2001 report by the National Association of Manufacturers points out that, already, “the most severe skills shortages now are mainly in the production workforce. These skilled hourly workers have traditionally been the backbone of manufacturing. Moreover, the major skills [that hourly workers lack, include] reading, communication, and math skills.”
Greenspan noted that “In the 1920s and 1930s, high school enrollment in this country expanded rapidly. . . . In the context of the demands of the economy at that time, a high school diploma represented the training needed to be successful in most aspects of American enterprise.” Now, to meet technological advances that require workers to have higher skill levels, he said “our secondary school system needs to serve the requirements of a changing economy in the same way.”
Whether or not students choose to pursue postsecondary education, they will be far more competitive as job applicants if they graduate with high school diplomas that demonstrate basic levels of knowledge and skill in English and mathematics. For, as Greenspan pointed out, “Generic capabilities in mathematics, writing, and verbal skills are key to the ability to learn and to apply new skills and thus to earn higher wages over time.”