• October 2011

Jobs and the Future: Are We Connecting the Dots?

By Pamela Ray
Government Relations Expert
Pamela Ray & Associates, LLC

For decades, jobs and economic development have been the focus of my advocacy work. The reason is simple: Investment is a multiplier that generates economic growth.

Unfortunately, we are now at a crossroads in our national policy-making that questions how to create jobs. The debate of more / less government, more / less spending, higher / lower taxes, and more / less regulation goes on daily.

Our nation’s elected officials are campaigning rather than governing, and I don’t see that changing until after the next election (go vote!). Until then, I’m confident that there will be no clear economic policy or job-creation road map for the small business, the unemployed, the manufacturer, the high-tech firm, the healthcare company, and everyone else woven into our U.S. economy.

That includes no progress toward remedying the public-policy disconnects between our education curriculum and future job markets.

Rather than focus on our country’s woes, I am putting my professional focus on job creation, education (college in particular), and workforce readiness.

I am starting first with my newly created position of guidance counselor to my two children, ages 13 and 17—with my older one in the thick of learning about career paths and college choices.

Within the painful unemployment statistics is a particularly alarming fact pointed out by Drexel University’s Center for Labor Markets & Policy: there is an actual collapse of the labor market for 16-24 year olds due to slow / no job growth, competition with older workers who can’t afford to leave the workforce, and the lack of concrete career or trades pathways that connect educational choices to employment opportunities.

As parents, in this new and uncertain economy with rising college costs, strategic decision-making is a high priority.

U.S. / Global Job Markets Drive New Career Paths

Often cited as new career paths are skilled and semi-skilled workers in computers, healthcare, science and technology, energy, as well as international business.

In July, I attended a conference sponsored by the _National Journal _ titled, Innovation Works. It started off with the first presenter noting that in 2008, half of all patents issued were to inventors outside the United States. By contrast, in 2000, 55 percent of U.S. patents went to U.S. inventors.

In a special report issued by the National Journal, American innovation is cited as “the best measure we have of how effectively an economy is producing new and marketable ideas that could grow into businesses, perhaps even industries, to create jobs and spark economic growth.” And the share of American innovation is eroding.

The U.S. Commerce Department estimates that 75 percent of U.S. growth since WWII has been driven by technological innovation. With other countries catching up, especially China, Japan, Germany, and South Korea, U.S. companies and policymakers must work together to develop a new framework that ensures our innovators can prosper and create economic growth and jobs.

Conference participants cited innovative platforms, common to us, such as the 4G networks, which will provide the opportunity for companies to build new devices, networks, and applications today and into the future.

Another example was the advancements made in genomics, which impact innovations across many industries, including agriculture and agbioscience, environmental, industrial biotechnology processes, and human and veterinary medicine.

This type of innovation most often calls for students to be educated in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

STEM occupations are projected to grow 17 percent by 2018, including:

  • computer and math (information, programming, security, networking, telecommunications, statistics and decision-making, etc.)
  • engineering and surveying (aerospace, environmental, geological, industrial, nuclear, military, mining, etc.)
  • physical and life sciences (microbiology, pharmacology, neuroscience, molecular biology, etc.)
  • managerial STEM occupations

Find a full listing of STEM-specific job categories for our college-bound kids here.

The NYS Department of Labor puts it all in practical terms, with STEM careers organized by region of the state, by occupation, a listing of annual median wages, employment projections, and tons of other resources.

It boasts that “Some of the most interesting and high-paying jobs today need workers educated and trained in STEM. Exciting STEM careers include research, design, engineering, health care, and biotechnology. Learn more here.

Local Job Markets Drive Career and Trades

The federal workforce-development programs were last updated in 1998. Our economy has changed since then, and the approach to job training and education needs to change with it.

Congressional workforce legislation is on the table and puts a much greater emphasis on connections at the local level among education, workforce, and economic forces.

Rather than a one-size-fits-all educational or job training approach, the policy proposals acknowledge that local / regional economies are unique.

This approach encourages new collaborative groups of stakeholders to make the local / regional connections between the skills education needed and the jobs in local labor markets.

Businesses and educational institutions can take action today to match employers and employees and pump up the economic engine of growth. No need to wait for a government program.

Focus on skills that feed local trades like maritime, hospitals and health care, machinists, mechanics, technicians, delivery drivers, and laborers. Note, of course, that this can only be determined accurately at the local level.

Connect Education and Job Prospects:

Whether you are creating public policy or counseling your kids in their pursuit of a college education, consider the following projections by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):)

Job Growth by Occupation: Professional and related occupations are projected to increase 17 percent, adding 5.2 million new jobs (i.e. healthcare, technical, computer, math science, etc.).

Service occupations are projected to grow by 14 percent, adding 4.1 million new jobs (i.e. firefighters, healthcare support, personal care, food service, maintenance, etc.).

Construction and extraction occupations are projected to grow by 13 percent, adding 1 million new jobs (i.e. residential and commercial building, mines, quarries, oil and gas fields, etc.).

Management, business, and financial occupations are projected to grow by 11 percent (i.e. management, scientific and technical consulting; government; healthcare and social assistance; finance and insurance; and construction).

Jobs in service industries: Healthcare and social assistance industries (4 million new jobs): 26 percent of all new jobs; 24 percent growth in industry (i.e. public and private hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities, and individual and family services).

Professional, scientific, and technical services (2.7 million new jobs): 34 percent growth in industry. Within this industry growth, it is estimated that computer systems design and related services will comprise 45 percent of this growth (i.e. design and integration of sophisticated networks and Internet and Intranet sites).

Also within this industry, jobs in management, scientific, and technical consulting services make up 31 percent of the job growth, but job growth in this subcategory itself is projected at an amazing 83 percent (i.e. planning and logistics; the implementation of new technologies; and compliance with workplace safety, environmental, and employment regulations).

Two additional job-creating industries include:

  • Educational services (+12 percent);
  • Administrative and support, and waste management and remediation services (+18 percent).

The Bottom Line

It is so important that our kids (and our policymakers) have the awareness and knowledge necessary to reach their fullest potential.

To do so in today’s economy means they have to understand that the economic realities of their future are completely different than the economic realities of their past. Together, we have to connect the dots and redefine what is possible in the new job market.

Additional Resources:
www.myskillsmyfuture.org, www.mynextmove.gov, and www.philadelphiafed.org.


About Pam Ray

Ray has more than three decades of in-depth experience in policy and politics, with expertise in congressional budget / appropriations and federal grant programs. Her policy experience includes housing and community development, housing finance, transit / transportation, taxes, and trade. With a focus on bridging the knowledge gap between elected officials and their constituents, Ray has achieved success in her own government relations business for 15 years and for elected officials in the U.S. Senate; U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs (1989-95); and the NYS Senate-Federal Affairs Office (1986-1989). For more information, visit www.pamrayllc.com.