Nov 5, 2012
Bill McMeekin
Bill McMeekin
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Educational Attainment: Smarter Workers, More Jobs

Industry: Technical Training woodworking skilled worker

Does your region have enough smart people? Better put, the question is does your region have enough people with the education, skill level and training to attract the investment and jobs in emerging fields?

Newly released information from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey put the number of people age 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher at 58.7 million in in the United States 2011, about 28.5 percent of the population in that age range and up almost a full percentage point from 2009 and up from 24.4 percent in 2000 and 20.3 percent in 1990.

States often tout the education levels of their workforce to demonstrate the depth of the labor pool they can offer. The top five states for percentage of population over age 25 with a bachelor’s degree or more are:

1. Massachusetts
2. Colorado
3. Maryland
4. Connecticut
5. New Jersey

And a new study of Census Bureau data by details metro and micropolitan areas with the highest levels of educational achievement for both high school graduates (Missoula MT and Helena MT each have more than 95 percent of the population  over 25 with a high school diploma) and bachelor’s degree or higher (Boulder CO has 59.1 percent of its over 25 population with a college degree)

More than 20.25 million people with bachelor’s degree are in science fields, including computer science, physical science, biological science and engineering, while another 5.3 million people with bachelor’s degrees are in science or engineering-related fields such as architecture and certain health-care fields, such as nursing. The top states for percentage of bachelor’s degree holders with a degree in a science or engineering fields are California, Maryland and Washington state.

The desirability 0f  science and engineering jobs is obvious, in terms of the knowledge base and climate of innovation they create, and also how well they pay. Salaried workers in science and engineering fields earn an average of $66,000 with a bachelor’s degree and $89,000 with an advanced degree, higher than for workers with similar degrees in business, education or humanities fields.

And while promoting educational attainment for four-year degrees and beyond is important, so, too, is promoting educational attainment and skills training at below the four-year level. Emerging new technologies and increasing sophistication in traditional manufacturing are putting more demands on workforce development and higher education entities, and magnifying the growing skills gap in the labor supply.

At the 2012 International Economic Development Council conference in Houston, Jane Oates, the assistant secretary of employment and training administration for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, noted that it is a shared responsibility of government, academia and employers to make certain that job seekers have the foundational blocks and core competencies so that both employers and workers can remain competitive in the global marketplace.

“Indiana is not competing with Ohio any more, it is competing with New Delhi and Shangai,” she said.

Oates encourages higher education institutions – both at the two- and four-year level to have “deep in the weeds” conversations with employers about their needs and tailor their curricula accordingly and not rely on abstract theory or how it’s always been done.

“Colleges that are still thinking like that need to back and  see what happened to the dinosaur,” Oates said.

So how does your community stack up? How does educational attainment play in your economic development strategy? How integrated are the workforce development components in your community and what successes have you experienced in that area? Share your thoughts.

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