The image of a shuttered factory representing the decline of blue collar jobs has been etched in our minds, and for good reason. Since 1991 the U.S. economy has lost three million good paying jobs that did not require a college degree and all but 500,000 of them have been in manufacturing.
The days of getting a high school degree and turning that into career in a blue collar industry are rapidly disappearing. However, the economy is not static. As those traditional jobs are disappearing, new jobs are opening up, according to a new report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and JPMorgan Chase & Company.
The U.S. has approximately 123 million workers in the economy and 30 million of those are workers without a BA who have good jobs, and that sector has expanded by three million since 1991. These are new skilled-services jobs in business, health care, hospitality, construction, education services, natural resources, wholesale and retail and government services.
The Center defines a good job as a salary of at least $35,000 a year ($17 an hour) for those under age 45 and at least $45,000 ($22 an hour) for workers age 45 and older.
The biggest difference between these new jobs and traditional blue collar jobs is the level of education necessary to perform the work. “Among good jobs, employers favor those with Associate’s Degrees or some college,” the report said.
“There are millions of good jobs in our economy for workers who have graduated from high school and completed some post-secondary education or training,” said Chauncy Lennon, Head of Workforce Initiatives with JPMorgan Chase. “We need to connect this workforce with these opportunities.”
Community and technical colleges are playing a more vital role in the economy. They can adapt more quickly to the needs of the local economy and provide the necessary training over a shorter time period than traditional four-year liberal arts schools.
The new jobs at the Procter & Gamble facility near Martinsburg are a good example. The company partnered with Blue Ridge Community and Technical College on job training for potential workers even before they broke ground.
None of this should be seen as devaluing a four-year degree. The report said workers with BAs have gained 8.4 million good paying jobs since the Great Recession (2007-2009) compared with 3.2 million workers with less education.
However, there is still a place—and a growing need—in our economy for dependable workers without a BA who have a particular skill, can communicate well and problem solve. Many of the old factory doors have closed, but new doors are opening.