In Texas, the biggest gulf between the skills sought by employers and those that workers possess is in middle-tier jobs, according to a new report from the state comptroller’s office. The authors of the report called these skills gaps “spot shortages.” They’re concentrated in certain industries and certain regions, but the highest-need occupations tend to be middle-skill positions (e.g., welders, machinists, and industry machinery mechanics, as the Boston Consulting Group identified in San Antonio in 2012).
The comptroller’s report, which includes EMSI data on workforce trends, is the latest in a growing body of research that shines a light on middle-skill jobs and the growing need for workers with practical skills learned through a certificate, two-year degree, apprenticeship, or some other form of on-the-job training. We contributed to this research with our report called “Middle-Skill Spotlight,” while Vice President Joe Biden also focused on middle-class jobs in his new job training report (PDF).
Why are middle-skill jobs so relevant? In many areas—not just growing Texas—they are in abundant supply, pay family-sustaining wages, and are often hard for employers to fill. But it’s more than that. Carpenters, electricians, plumbers, truck drivers, and other middle-skill workers form the backbone of any regional workforce; they’re rarely glamorous positions, but they’re crucial to local economies. And increasingly, middle-skill jobs provide an avenue for people to improve their economic mobility, a point stressed in Tamar Jacoby’s recent Wall Street Journal essay.
Jacoby, the president of Opportunity America, focused on middle-skill pathways in welding, nursing, and managing a franchise, three fields that require a mix of practical skills and a varying degree of postsecondary education. She also went over three things required to start on any upward path: entry ramps at the ground level, training that leads to an actual job, and picking a career path that’s aligned with economic needs. For the last requirement, she talked about the importance for education providers to develop strong industry partnerships:
Many high schools and community colleges teach job skills, but too many of them use outmoded techniques and equipment or steer young people to industries that aren’t growing. The best way to stay current is to partner with an employer, who can offer advice about what’s in demand, help design curricula, lend equipment, even—like JV—provide training.
The Texas workforce report, meanwhile, said the state should pay more attention to career and technical education programs in addition to other alternative forms of training like apprenticeships and industry-based certificates. Apprenticeships are an especially en vogue training option, and in Texas apprentices have good earnings potential (see below) and an 82% completion rate, per the report.
EMSI found that 83% of jobs in typical apprenticeship occupations are in the construction industry, a byproduct of the construction-oriented fields that the BLS has grouped in the apprenticeship camp. However, the Texas report noted that “traditional apprenticeships in fields such as construction and manufacturing can now be used in those including community health and information technology. Texas launched a pilot program to test the flexibility of apprenticeships to adapt across a number of industries. The initiative produced positive results, showing that in many cases the model can be replicated.”
In manufacturing specifically, apprenticeships and industry certificates are increasing the supply of middle-skill workers. It’s true that manufacturing firms can produce more with fewer workers, but mid-skill workers with the competencies needed in advanced manufacturing operations—computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers, for instance—are in high demand.
The comptroller’s office used EMSI data to look at “advanced industries” (AI)—that is, those with above-average investments in research and development and high proportions of STEM workers. Using an industry definition from the Brookings Institution, the authors of the report identified 23 advanced industries in Texas, including five in manufacturing: pharmaceuticals, aerospace, advanced machinery, software, and computer systems design.
Advanced industries were responsible for 8% of net job gains in Texas from 2010 to 2013. In Austin, AI’s share of new employment growth was 21.3%, while those industries comprised 9.6% of total 2013 employment.
The full Texas workforce report from the state comptroller’s office can be accessed here (PDF). For more on EMSI’s middle-skill report, see our video overview or access the PDF. Follow EMSI on Twitter (@DesktopEcon) or check us out on LinkedIn and Facebook.