Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Don't forget the middle

The conventional wisdom bandied about concerning post secondary education and career preparation is that the American labor market is comprised of very low-skilled and very highly-skilled jobs, with a hollowing out of the middle.

Back in November, as part of a national campaign called Skills2Compete, a report titled, America’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs, was released, refuting that notion. The report, authored by economists Harry Holzer (Georgetown University and The Urban Institute) and Robert Lerman (American University and The Urban Institute) argues that middle-skill jobs – those that require more than high school but less than a four-year degree – continue to make up nearly half of all jobs today. Yet most national policymakers and politicians continue to overlook these jobs, and the investments in workforce education and training required to fill them in the coming decade. Unfortunately, Maine appears to be following the conventional wisdom on this.

However, in Central/Western Maine, we've recognized the importance of these middle-skill jobs and career opportunities. As part of our strategic workforce plan for the next two years, the focus has been on these types of jobs and training initiatives that point us towards what the Skills2Compete report talks about.

Organizations in Maine, like the Manufacturers Association of Maine, recognize that abundant opportunities exist in Maine, for those pursuing a career in the skilled trades. Cianbro Corporation will require somewhere in the vicinity of 400 skilled workers for their new module facility in Brewer. Current economic conditions indicate that demands for American exports could be on the increase, as pressure from cheap foreign imports has begun to decrease. Maine and other regional economies throughout the U.S. could benefit from this. Will we be able to take advantage of these possible opportunities and capture potential new markets?

Currently, America’s workforce education priority is targeted towards filling the 1 in 4 American jobs that require four-year or advanced college degrees. According to the report, a more comprehensive approach is required, one that addresses the demands of nearly 50 percent of U.S. jobs, jobs that are classified as middle-skill jobs that require more than high school, but less than a four-year degree. Currently, middle-skill jobs experiencing shortages include construction workers and inspectors, medical technicians, nurses, firefighter/EMTs, and other positions that are crucial to the nation’s infrastructure, health and quality of life.

For more on where our workforce priorities need to be focused, read the entire report.

The Workforce Alliance also break it out state-by-state. An evaluation of Maine's challenge can be found here.

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