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PREPARING THE WORKERS OF TODAY FOR THE JOBS OF TOMORROW: President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers Finds Occupations Requiring Higher Education Will Grow Faster Than Occupations That Do Not

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“As we build a new foundation for economic growth in the twenty-first century, the nation’s workers will be better prepared for ever-changing opportunities if they have strong analytical and interpersonal skills.”

Between now and 2016, occupations that require higher educational attainment are projected to grow much faster than those with lower education requirements, with the fastest growth coming from occupations that require an associate’s degree or a postsecondary vocational award. So says Preparing the Workers of Today for the Jobs of Tomorrow, a new report from the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), a group of three economists who advise the president on economic policy.

“As we build a new foundation for economic growth in the twenty-first century, the nation’s workers will be better prepared for ever-changing opportunities if they have strong analytical and interpersonal skills,” the report reads. “High-quality education and training is the best way to prepare the workers of today for the jobs of tomorrow.”

The report takes a brief look at the current recession, calling it the worst downturn since the Great Depression. It notes that 6.5 million jobs have been lost since December 2007, with more losses expected before the economy hits bottom and employment growth returns. The report adds that the recession has accelerated the decline of already-contracting industries such as auto manufacturing, and has led to an “extraordinary” decline in the financial services industry.

CEA also looks at what types of jobs will remain after the economy rebounds and which jobs will grow and develop over the next few years. It predicts that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will create new opportunities in already-expanding industries such as health care and education, but it will also create opportunities in “fledgling” industries such as renewable energy production and distribution. Meanwhile, jobs in retail and wholesale trade are projected to decline as growth in consumer spending is expected to slow going forward.

preparing the workers

As shown in the graph to the right, occupations requiring higher educational attainment are projected to grow much faster than those with lower education requirements. Interestingly, occupations that require only an associate’s degree or a postsecondary vocational award are expected to grow slightly faster than occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree or more.

Citing an employer survey conducted by The Conference Board, the report notes that employers have said that individuals with only a high school degree are deficient in professionalism/work ethic and critical thinking/problem solving. Employers also believed that most recent high school graduates lacked the necessary basic skills of reading, writing, and math. Conversely, survey respondents said that graduates from two- and four-year college programs were, on average, better prepared to meet the challenges of the labor market.

Given these opinions, it is not surprising that good jobs in today’s economy disproportionately go to workers with education and training beyond the high school level. In fact, the report notes that individuals who attend a community college significantly increase their earnings, regardless of whether they complete a degree.

At the same time, the CEA expresses concern with the large percentages of students who enroll in community colleges but then drop out. According to the report, 78 percent of students attain an academic degree or are still pursuing a degree six years later who first enrolled in a public four-year college, compared to only 53 percent of individuals who first enrolled in a public two-year college.

The report calls the lack of preparedness a “key factor impeding program completion.” It notes that nearly one third of first-year college students in 2001 needed to take remedial classes in reading, writing, or mathematics at an estimated cost of over $1 billion annually, adding that student who require remedial classes are much less likely to earn a degree than those who do not.

To help more students both access and complete higher education, CEA outlines several elements necessary for a more effective post-high school education and training system. First and foremost, it says the most important post-high school education and training reform is a “strong early childhood and elementary and secondary education system.” Other important elements it lists are access to financial support, adequate student support services, more collaboration between institutions of higher education and employers, and a greater accountability for student outcomes.

The complete report is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/assets/documents/Jobs_of_the_Future.pdf.

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.