These are examples of middle-skill jobs that require some postsecondary training but not a bachelor’s degree, and they are the focus of the first part of a major new special report from USA TODAY called “Where the Jobs Are.”
EMSI provided USA TODAY with in-depth labor market data on more than 700 occupations in 125 metro areas and the nation. The newspaper is using the local data as the basis for a four-part series on jobs that launched Tuesday with a longform story from MaryJo Webster, interactive graphic, video and audio interviews, and local coverage in cities across the U.S.
Many middle-skill occupations have many openings and pay well, some much better than others. And although they don’t require four years of education, they do require a discernible skill. “There’s a new middle. It’s tougher, and takes more skill,” Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, told USA TODAY.
The rigor of blue-collar jobs is one thing, but why aren’t more people flocking to middle-skill job opportunities? Here are a few reasons, as outlined in Webster’s story:
The Information Gap
We wrote in our Middle-Skill Spotlight report how the skills gap is often a local training gap. But it’s also an information gap in many cases. This particularly manifests itself when it comes time for juniors and seniors in high school—and their parents—start researching college choices and career opportunities.
Consider the example that Webster included from EMSI CEO Andrew Crapuchettes:
“It is such a local problem,” Crapuchettes says, referring to what he calls an “information gap.” In Durham, N.C., for example, programmers are in high demand commanding big salaries; in Virginia Beach, programmers earn a third as much.
“Employers don’t know the talent is in Virginia Beach and (workers) don’t know they can make three times as much three hours away,” he says.
The Push for a Four-Year Degree
There’s a reason many skilled trades occupations are aging (as we wrote about for Forbes) and other middle-skill occupations have old workforces: There isn’t a huge supply of young people seeking to become machinists, carpenters, or plumbers.
For years, most students have been nudged in the direction of a four-year diploma. High schools have cut vocational and technical education programs. Pursuing a skilled trade has been left to those who aren’t fit for college. But Webster reported that some four-year dropouts, especially those training for energy field, are realizing that enrolling in a community or technical college makes a lot of sense.
Instructors at Lee College, near Houston, say they are seeing an increasing number of students apply for the school’s petrochemical-related programs after initially pursuing a bachelor’s degree in petroleum or chemical engineering.
“These are ‘gold collar’ jobs,” says Charles Thomas, the head of the school’s process technology division. “Technicians in our program start out with $62,000 base salary plus overtime.”
The ‘Middle-Skill’ Stigma
Middle-skill jobs have an image problem. There’s even a stigma with the term “middle skill,” as TV host Mike Rowe told USA TODAY for the story.
Rowe has started a foundation called mikeroweWORKS that gives scholarship money to schools that train for welders and other skilled laborers.
Trends in the Middle-Skill Labor Market
Blue-collar jobs took it on the chin leading up to and through the recession. But MIT professor Paul Osterman told USA TODAY that there will be “tremendous demand” for middle-skill workers as baby boomers retire. And already, middle-tier job growth is going strong in key regional economies.
EMSI projects the U.S. will add 2.5 million net new middle-skill jobs from 2013 to 2017. That’s 37% of all projected growth, a tick more than low-skill (36%) and much more high-skill (27%).
Other key data points from the story:
- All middle-skill jobs analyzed pay at least $13 per hour in median hourly wages. As Webster writes, “In most metro areas, some of the best-paying middle-skill jobs include radiation therapists, elevator installers and repairers, and dental hygienists, all with a median wage of more than $70,000 [per year].”
- Of the 10 metro areas projected to add the most new middle-tier jobs, Phoenix will have the highest share that are mid-skill (42%). The Phoenix MSA is expected to add just over 60,000 of these jobs.
- Houston is projected to add the most total new mid-skill jobs—102,000 through 2017. That’s 40% of all new jobs in the Houston metro.
- EMSI and USA TODAY also factored in livable-wage jobs, using MIT’s Living Wage Calculator. In Augusta, Ga., Salt Lake City, Knoxville, Tenn., and Vallejo, Calif., livable-wage, middle-skill jobs are projected to account for for nearly half of all new jobs.
USA TODAY’s Jodi Upton talked more about the series and the data trends from EMSI in this audio interview:
See more of EMSI in the news on our press page. For more on EMSI’s employment data—available at the county, MSA, and ZIP code level—or to see data for your region, email Josh Wright. Follow EMSI on Twitter (@DesktopEcon) or check us out on LinkedIn and Facebook. And be sure to sign up for the EMSI newsletter.