Meeting Workforce Demand

Apr 1, 2011 by Matthew Smith

Meeting Workforce Demand

By 2018, 60% of jobs will require a postsecondary degree or certificate.[1] Currently, only 38% of adults hold an associate degree or higher.[2] If the gap between degree supply and workforce needs is not narrowed, state economies will be unable to compete regionally or globally. For states to be more competitive, legislators will need to take authoritative action to ensure that increased postsecondary attainment translates to livable wage jobs for their residents.

According to Anthony Carnevale of the Center for Education and the Workforce, producing an additional 20 million degrees and certificates by 2025 would lower income inequality and increase incomes for all, including high school graduates who do not pursue higher education.[3] At the current rate, the United States will produce about 12.3 million degrees, leaving the U.S. 7.7 million credentials short of the 20 million credential threshold that can spur greater economic prosperity.[4] With livable wage jobs for those without a postsecondary education on the decline, earning a postsecondary credential is the surest way of entering the middle class. According to Carnevale, 61% of middle class Americans have some postsecondary education, compared to only 23% of Americans in the 1970′s. With the 2008 recession eliminating a large share of the nation’s low-skill, livable-wage jobs, legislatures should develop strategies that improve the alignment between college attainment and career preparation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the March 2011 unemployment rate for adults without postsecondary experiences is 11.7%, compared to 6% for those who have at least some college credit.[5] In an August 2010 speech, the president of the Minneapolis Fed indicated that over 30% of unemployment is due to a mismatch between workers’ skills and competencies required by employers.[6] To decrease the unemployment rate and improve long-term, state fiscal health, legislators should invest in strategies that build workers’ skills to match the competencies sought by employers.  These strategies could include emergency workforce training for the unemployed and certificate programs for adults seeking more sustainable employment.

Higher education leaders attribute recent enrollment increases in postsecondary education to adults who are either unemployed or are looking for higher-paying jobs. Now more than ever, the vast majority of people enrolled in postsecondary education are “non-traditional” adults who are looking to improve their skills so they can compete for higher-paying jobs. Among these students are “near completers” who were once enrolled in postsecondary education and are within one year of graduating with a degree.

States can serve the diverse population of adults in need of postsecondary education while also strengthening career and workforce readiness by considering the following strategies:

  • Providing incentives to near-completers to finish a postsecondary credential
  • Increasing the production of year-long certificates that are tied to high-demand jobs in the state or regional economy
  • Creating career pathways that align skills learned in college programs to high-demand jobs
  • Aligning postsecondary and workforce systems to ensure degree and work competencies are one and the same
  • Accelerating completion of certificates and applied associate degrees among students needing remediation by embedding basic skills instruction into career and technical degree courses
  • Coordinating workforce training, social service and postsecondary programs to move more adults toward a postsecondary credential

See also “College is for Everyone!” and “Deploying Limited Resources.”

[1] Anthony Carnevale, Nicole Smith & Jeff Strohl, Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018 (Washington D.C.: Center on Education and the Workforce, June 2010),

[2] Lumina Foundation for Education, A Stronger Nation through Higher Education (Indianapolis: Lumina, September 2010),

[3] Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2010.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table A-4. Employment status of the civilian population 25 years and over by educational attainment” (Washington: BLS, 2011),

[6] Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. “Narayana Kocherlakota’s Speech in Marquette, Michigan” (Minneapolis: Federal Reserve, 2010),

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