Middle-Skills Jobs, Opportunities and Coming out of the Recession

NAM President and CEO John Engler gave the keynote address Thursday at a Brookings Institution event, “The Future of Middle-Skill Jobs,” marking the release of a paper of the same name by Harry Holzer of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute and Robert I. Lerman of American University and the Urban Institute.

Engler’s remarks are available here as an .mp3 file. (About 18 minutes).

Middle-skills jobs are those requiring some post high-school education but not necessarily a four-year degree or other advanced study. In manufacturing, examples the paper cites are first-line supervisors and managers, machinists, cutters and solderers.

Contrary to preconceptions, conventional wisdom and some economists’ arguments, middle-skills positions will remain a significant portion of the economy, and the nation’s educational and workforce development systems must more effectively serve the public to reflect this reality.

David Moltz of Inside Higher Ed was on hand and wrote a very good report on the discussions of the day, “Educating ‘Middle-Skill’ Workers.” Key passages:

Projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that, during the next decade, 45 percent of job openings will be in “middle-skill” positions. These jobs encompass a wide swath of professions from construction supervisors and machinists to dental hygienists and paralegals. Still, those on the Brookings panel expressed concern that projections for the public attainment of skills necessary for these jobs does not appear to meet the high demand.

“If we emerge from this recession without a skilled workforce, then this recovery will be a jobless one,” said John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers and former governor of Michigan

 And …

Holzer argued that “high quality” career and technical education does not trap low-income or unskilled students in certain careers and opportunities. This argument, he said, could be made of traditional vocational education. He noted that solid career and technical education, both at high school and at community college, does not just prepare students for a singular job but provides them with skills for a wide-range of fields.

“We need something to get rid of that wasted senior year,” said Engler, arguing that these high school students should already be making progress toward either college or some work skills credential. “Kids who leave high school should be ready for college without remediation and those who don’t go to college need to have industry certified skills.”


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