Published on 2014/02/19
Helping Middle-Skilled Workers Find a Job (Part 1)
As the American economy becomes more knowledge-based and technology-driven, employees who formerly occupied middle-skilled jobs need to gain new competencies to find new work.

Technology has been driving significant changes in the American workforce over the past few decades. Employers have placed higher premiums, salaries and benefits on educated workers due to the increasing demand for skilled workers to navigate complex technologies, transfor­mations in the organization of the economy and a developing global marketplace. Consequently, these changes demand a review and analysis of needed changes in securing a position in the job market.

Future of the American Worker

The economy is pushed by consumer spending. Every time consumers purchase items or services, demand is created that, sooner or later, leads to job growth in particular industries. A major concern among today’s workers and those seeking work is just that: job growth. The question is, where are the jobs and how do we secure a high-paying one? The lack of an answer to the unemployment crisis continues to push individuals to take on multiple precarious jobs to replace their lost full-time positions. These jobs, initially thought to be temporary measures, have in many cases become long-term positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that 7.5 million citizens are currently involuntary part-time workers — representing a little more than five percent of the workforce (BLS, 2014). Workers need a framework and methodology to guide them through this period of employment darkness.

Technology, with its mixed economic messages, was once thought of as an avenue to provide jobs. Hobijn, Stirob, and Antonades (2013) stated that the technology sector led the 1990s in economic explosion. Later, the country experienced the technology burst. Despite the 2000-01 drop in technology positions, technology still reigns in the top three sectors for job availability. Several years after the technology bubble burst, an article in Technology Central New York Business Journal noted that the American technology industry increased jobs at “2.5 percent for a total of 5.81 million” (A.R.R., 2006, p. 28). This is an increase of more than “140,000 net jobs” (A.R.R., 2006, p. 28) in the first six months of 2006. If technology was to be the saving grace, what happened?

The answer may extend back to John Maynard Keynes’ (1930) optimistic essay, “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren.” Keynes pointed to what he termed a new disease: technological unemployment. Ironically, Mulbrandon and Robison (2013) pointed to the cause of job losses as “tech-driven innovation” (p. 38).

Yes, efficiency has improved through technological innovations. On the other hand, the number of jobs is decreasing. The trend toward no or part-time positions does not appear to have an end in sight. Whether this trend is due to companies not wanting to give their employees benefits, or just not enough business to keep workers, there needs to be a new and innovative way to decrease this downshift in jobs.

Middle Skill Positions

Middle-skilled positions necessitate more than a high-school diploma, though not a bachelor’s degree (McGuire, 2014). These middle-skilled positions include: (1) construction workers, (2) nurses and health care technicians, (3) truck drivers, (4) IT professionals, (5) EMTs and paramedics, (6) computer support specialists and (7) biotechnology workers. Businesses that generate middle-skill jobs must be supported by the states in which they exist. After all, “managing change is inevitable and sustaining results will require game-changing transformation” (Brown-Jackson, 2013, p. 1629).

To read the conclusion of this two-part series, please click here..

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References

A. R. R. (2006). U.S. tech industry job growth doubles in first half of 2006. Technology Central New York Business Journal, 20(39), 28.

Beach, D. P. (1980). Preliminary Development of an Effective Work Competencies Guidance/Instruction System. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED183932

Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014). Economic news release. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t08.htm

Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013). The employment situation – December 2013. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf

Brown-Jackson, K. L. (2013). Targeted professional development + collaboration. Proceedings of the 7th International Technology, Education and Development Conference, Spain, 1629.

Burton, S. L., Bessette, D,. Brown-Jackson, K., & Grimm, F. (2013). Educating the educators. Paper presented at the ICERI2013 6th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation.

Burton, S. L., Bessette, D,. Brown-Jackson, K., & Grimm, F. (2013). Transforming the mental paradigm on digital literacy through understanding andragogy and maximizing continuous education. Paper presented at the ICERI2013 6th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation.

Cooper, M. (1986). The ecology of writing. College English, 48 (4), 364-375.

DeVoss, D. N., McKee, H. A., & Selfe, R. (Eds.). (2009). Technological ecologies and sustainability. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press. Retrieved from http:// ccdigitalpress.org/ebooks-and-projects/tes

No author listed (2014). Education careers review: Top ten reviews. ITT Tech – Official Site. Retrieved from http://education-careers-review.toptenreviews.com/

Hobijn, B. (2003). Taking the pulse of the tech sector: A coincident index of high-tech activity. Current Issues In Economics & Finance, 9(10), 1.

Holzer, H. J. and Lerman, R. I. (2009). The Future of Middle-Skills Jobs. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-future-of-middle-skill-jobs/

Kazanas, H. C., & ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, C. H. (1978). Affective Work Competencies for Vocational Education. Information Series No. 138. McGuire, J. (2014). Demand rising for middle-skilled jobs. Grand Rapids Business Journal, 32(2), 3. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED166420

Mulbrandon, C., & Robison, H. (2013). America’s incredible shrinking information sector. Harvard Business Review, 91(11), 38-39.

National Skills Coalition. (2010). Massachusetts’ forgotten middle-skilled job report: Meeting the demands of a 21st century ecomomy. Retrieved from http://www.maworks.org/publications/middleskills.report.pdf

Schwartz, W., & ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, N. Y. (1995). How to prepare your children for work. For Parents/about Parents.

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Readers Comments

Henrik Olsen 2014/02/19 at 2:15 pm

I agree that middle-skilled workers are the gap we need to address for the benefit of the nation’s economy. To do this, we need more collaboration between businesses and higher education institutions to create incentives for people to return to school. Both partners must be committed to improving access to postsecondary education. We often think that falls in the realm of the institution, which could offer weekend or online courses. But an equally important key to encouraging employees to return to school is for the employer to offer support in the form of tuition assistance, time off or a flexible work schedule to accommodate the postsecondary program.

WA Anderson 2014/02/20 at 12:55 pm

I agree with Burton about the need to provide more educational opportunities for middle-skilled workers, but this solution won’t deal with all of the issues she identifies, such as the growth of precarious work. There’s no indication from businesses that if they had better-trained employees, they would offer them permanent instead of part-time positions. There are fundamental changes that have to take place in terms of how we (as a society, broadly) understand and value work, stability and balance. Without a shift in thinking, and efforts by businesses to rectify the issues they have created for the sake of profit, our only result will be highly-skilled workers in temporary, insecure jobs — and that is of little value to society.

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