Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Jobs of Tomorrow

Mary Jean Ryan just sent me a link to an outstanding report from the President's Council of Economic Advisers entitled, "Preparing the Workers of the Today for the Jobs of Tomorrow." The report outlines the jobs likely to grow in the next five to ten years and makes recommendations as to how we can be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities in the global economy.

The Council points to a promising future for Washington State. First of all, we are well positioned to take advantage of the jobs of the future.

First of all, the authors project that a higher household savings rate will hamper aggregate demand. However, other types of spending will fill the breach namely exports and business fixed investment. Trade deficits will narrow and exports will increase. Washington state is the most trade dependent state in the country. Increased exports will bolster our state's aerospace, software, woods products, business services and metals industries.

Overwhelmingly, health care dominates the projected job growth over the next decade. This bodes well for both Spokane and Seattle who are both regional health care centers and Seattle a hub of medical research. Even in today's deep recession, there are nearly 10,000 job vacancies in health care in Washington State.

Strong growth is also expected in construction. Much of that growth will be related to clean energy and environmental protection. Environmental related jobs are expected to grow by 52% as compared to 14% for all other occupations. Jobs such as environmental engineering technicians and electrical power line installers and repairers are already going begging. Some 81,000 new jobs in energy efficiency are expected in Washington State over the next 30 years with construction accounting for nearly 3/4.

The third area of growth the report focuses on is air transport and aerospace. Aircraft mechanics, service technicians, aerospace machinists, service technicians and mechanical drafters are expected to see significant job growth. The trick here will be to figure out how to ensure that Boeing's commercial airline production continues to center in Seattle.

The report emphasizes that the job most in demand are in occupations that require an associates degree or a post-secondary vocational award. Employment growth in those arena's exceeds that of jobs requiring a bachelor's degree or higher. Contrary to conventional wisdom the Council argues that these jobs yield similareconomic returns as bachelors degrees.

The report touts Washington state as a national leader in workforce education pointing to the state's worker retraining program and the I-Best program which combines ESL and basic skills with job specific training.

The recommendations echo many of conclusions reached by other researchers and practitioners within the last year:

First of all, the system needs to be simplified. Everything from financial aid, to career planning as well as the design of federal programs is so complicated it is amazing they work at all. Financial aid officers at Washington Community Colleges and WorkSource centers tear their hair out trying to sort through financial aid or support service opportunities.

Secondly, education and training should be linked to jobs and job ladders that allow people to move up the career ladder over their lifetime. Career pathways can be mapped out as early as middle school and post secondary programs should help students navigate the course offerings that lead to a specific jobs. Obviously, for this to work, there have to be very close relationships with employers and educators.

Finally, education and training needs to be more flexible. The vast majority of the workers our economy needs in the next 20 years are already in the workforce. Our education system needs to be accessible to people who are working full time and have family obligations. The pedagogy and the curriculum needs to tuned to different types of learners as well.

Washington state look well positioned to take advantage of the changing economy and it appears that we have already made many of the right decisions on how to get there.

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