Job Growth Expected for Middle-Skill Occupations

True, employers are putting an increasing emphasis on technical skills. But 58% of all Virginia jobs in 2016 were classified as “middle-skill,” which usually can be supplied by community colleges and career schools, and the percentage still will be 58% by 2026, according to Virginia Employment Commission forecasts cited by the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia.

As total employment increases, the number of middle-skill jobs will increase by 200,000 in Virginia, reports Spencer Shanholtz in the StatChat blog. The percentage of low-skill jobs will decrease from 4% to 3% over that 10-year period, while the percentage of high-skill jobs will increase from 33% to 35%.

Exploring the public-policy implications, Shanholtz writes: “It would be sensible to increase attention towards “Middle-skill” pathways, which can provide gainful employment and encourage further education and degree completion.”

High-growth middle-skill occupations are dominated by the health care sector. They include personal care aides, home health aides, physical therapist assistants, medical assistants, and occupational therapy assistants. While some occupations are low-paying, the 2017 annual median wage in Virginia was $60,940 for physical therapist assistants and $66,520 for occupational therapy assistants. Salaries could well rise for some of these categories, which are expected to see shortages nationally.

“The ability of the U.S. Education system to develop midlevel skills is deficient,” says Shanholtz. “Education and workforce systems are failing to keep pace with the changing needs of the economy, and employers are struggling to find skilled workers. The demand is there, but obviously, the supply is lacking.”

Preparation for middle-skill jobs has been traditionally through community college education, associates degrees, apprenticeships, or on-the-job training. Options have expanded to include education at for-profit colleges, certificates, certifications, badges, coding and technology boot camps, course clusters, and career and technical education (CTE) programs that start in high school and extend into community colleges. …

A certificate is the highest form of education held by about 1 in 10 American workers and certificate holders earn 20 percent more than workers who hold only a high school diploma. In 2017, Virginia as a whole awarded just over 20,000 certificates with rates being highest in the rural areas of the state.

Bacon’s bottom line: At at time when a four-year college education remains unaffordable for many (even though Virginia’s public four-year colleges are freezing tuition this academic year), middle-skill degrees and certificates look like an increasingly practical path toward a middle-class income.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) recognizes the value of middle-skill degrees, but public perception does not appear to have caught up with marketplace realities. Many students pursue four-year degrees only (a) to drop out after racking up significant debt or (b) graduate but settle for jobs that don’t require a B.A. degree.

The cultural bias in favor of a four-year degree and a white-collar profession is powerful. But eventually, the high cost and low economic returns of many four-year college degrees will tell. Prestigious programs in technology and engineering will continue to draw Virginia’s research institutions like bees to honey. Hopefully, the commonwealth’s other institutions of higher education will keep up with the demand for middle-skill occupations.

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12 responses to “Job Growth Expected for Middle-Skill Occupations


    You are being silly, Jim. All the focus needs to be on higher wages for the unskilled and entry level! At $15-20 an hour (the new proposed minimum wage is $20 an hour) we will have so many more of those jobs, right?

    • Oh, Steve. I am so sorry for suggesting that liberals might be racist on occasion. I forget that us white guys are racist by our nature, unless liberal, whether we know it or not, so that we are not qualified to in any way suggest that people of color might be racists from time to time, or that some might be all the time.

      Where can I get further instructions on this inherited and irrevocably flaw in my nature by virtue of the color I was born with? Any ideas on that, Steve?

  2. I find these statistics in Jim’s post provided to Jim by others to be confusing, bureaucratic double talk, fancy words saying nothing while sowing much vacuous confusion. More on that later.

    But for now, consider this racist headline:

    Do you see why on its face it is racist?

  3. Progressives cannot be racist. You know that, Reed….

  4. What does it mean when all that you see is what’s on the left and don’t see the same level of idiocy on the opposite side on the right?

    Would you like for me to go dredge up some of the stuff the hard right is saying about race?

    At some point – those who are truly in the middle can see left and right and not just what’s on the left. If you do not see that – then perhaps you are really further right than you think AND “everyone” is to the left that does not think like you!

  5. I am not sure how a discussion on racism got into the comments on this post about the need for more middle skill workers. It is refreshing to be reminded that there is a need in society for other than STEM.

    In light of this demonstrated need, it is worth noting that enrollment in Virginia’s community colleges has fallen for the last seven years.

    • Yes Dick – completely veered off into the partisan wacko zone!

      We continue to have recurring themes here on BR:

      1. – 4yr college is expensive – and it’s the Colleges and their governing boards fault for having too many administrators, too high paid professors, too many courses with light demand, etc, etc and something should be done about it since taxpayers help
      pay for all of it…

      2. – folks are going to 4yr colleges who are not “qualified” academically but the colleges want them to keep their enrollments up and especially so if the students represent demographics that make them look more inclusive!

      3. – folks are going into debt up to their eyeballs to pay for outrageous costs of college

      4. – People are graduating with 4yr degrees in subjects the economy does not want or need.

      Jim touched on it – as a society – we essentially believe that someone who gets a 4yr degree has “made it” to that mythical middle class goal. It’s the benchmark when mom/dad both have “degrees” and their offspring do the same!

      Over and Over though – we have more and more evidence that what the economy wants and needs is folks with technical educations in specific technology-infused fields.

      In order compete for those jobs – people need to be able to – for instance – read and understand technical documentation about the equipment they are operating and for that you need a solid foundation in reading, writing, math, science – combined into an ability to read and understand technology concepts.

      For an example, I have noticed that folks buy new cars with bluetooth to connect to their phones – and more than a few do not do it because they simply do not understand the technology and how it works …

      I can go on and on but we are overwhelmed by technology these days that few of us every really got well “educated” on but in the economy – it’s a required skill to do many jobs.

      And as the article says – that IS where the jobs are and what is needed to do them is NOT a 4yr degree but a technical degree from institutions like Community Colleges (and legitimate for-profit schools) that do two general things: 1. – address remediation for those who did not get enough basics and specific occupations – like x-ray techs or drone operations, etc.

      Society is in a “blame” mode now – they want to blame government and Colleges and “liberals” and “conservatives” and who knows what else for their own lack of motivation and effort to actually take advantage of the resources that are already available to them – they take the 4yr degree to a Starbucks clerk job instad of the 2yr degree to an occupational certificate for a guaranteed good job in the economy.

      And yet we complain – somehow all of this we are apparently “entitled” to without any effort on our own parts…. blah blah blah – oh and yes… there are racists left and right among us … Gawd Forbid!

  6. So if we need workers with specialized training post high school but not necessarily with four-year college degrees, where are our so-called leaders in education, business and government? One would think they would be out front calling for change in our education system and funding.

    If JFK were alive and was working on Volume 2 of Profiles in Courage (always one of my favorite books), I don’t think he’d find many recent candidates for inclusion.

  7. it’s not really “specialized” training per se – it’s “basic training” for 21st century jobs – almost all of which have been transformed by technology AND our “leaders” have been saying over and over that we actually have more jobs than we have qualified applicants but people persist in believing the 4-year degree is the gold standard when it no longer is unless one goes to graduate school but education is not the only reason people send their kids to 4yr institutions; they want them to “experience” college life – more than just academic education which is fine and dandy if your parents have the economic means so you’re not in debt for decades.

    So the “herd” follows… whatever is “best” for Middle Class generations of families is also the goal of those trying to move up to middle class.

    The perception has been that no matter what your degree is in – whether it be Politcal Science or or journalism, it would guaratee you a good job – and many still believe this including those who families are seeking first generation college.

    Community College has been often considered as for those who were not interested in “real” College. Right now, today, if you ask College-educated parents if it is “okay” that there kids only go to Community College – they would still want them to do the 4-yr if they could.

  8. The opportunities for this kind of training abound, in both public and private institutions, and in many cases within companies for employees wishing to move to a higher-skill job. But you know what? It’s still work, some of it more academically challenging than sitting in some grade-inflated college classroom. The shipyard’s apprentice program requires math pre-requisites right up there with engineering programs.

    Didn’t mean to divert to race, mainly meant to make the point that all the focus in some circles is on paying people more for unskilled labor, when the focus should really be on how to get beyond that into a better-skill and better-paying job. But that’s a matter of personal drive and responsibility, no longer acceptable topics for discussion in this entitlement society…

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