About 3.6 million students graduated from high school this year. Completing K-12 is an accomplishment worth noting, but those diplomas are losing value when it comes to finding a good job.*
Not that long ago, individuals with a high school degree, or even less education, could count on a decent job in manufacturing. However, a new report by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in partnership with JPMorgan Chase finds that those days are over.
“The glory days of American manufacturing in the 1970s—when workers with a high school diploma or less held 79 percent of the industry’s jobs—will not return,” the report said.
Today, less than half (43 percent) of manufacturing jobs are held by workers with no post-secondary education or training.
There are several major factors in play:
First, international competition and improved productivity mean there simply are not as many manufacturing jobs in this country as there used to be. The researchers found that “output in manufacturing (in the U.S.) has grown by more than 60 percent since 1991, while employment in the industry shrank by almost 30 percent.”
Second, the manufacturing jobs that remain require more skills. “People now need higher skill levels and should look outside the assembly line if they want to compete with robots for manufacturing jobs,” said Jeff Strohl, co-author of the report.
Automation now handles the repetitive tasks that people used to perform. While that has cut into employment, it has increased the value of workers. In 1979, each worker added $293,000 to manufacturing output, but that increased to $485,000 by 2017.
There is a direct correlation between improved productivity and more advanced skills. “The odds of finding a good job in manufacturing with a high school diploma or less have been cut in half since 1991, as two million good jobs for high school-educated workers have been lost,” the report said.
Those individuals with high school degrees (or less) are being replaced with workers with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees and others who have supplemented their high school education with an industry certification or license.
High school graduates are typically lauded for their accomplishment. That’s fine. Thirteen years of schooling (including kindergarten) is a long grind. But in today’s work environment, that achievement is no longer enough to guarantee a good job.
The high school diploma is not an end, but rather a beginning of continuing education and lifelong learning that will improve an individual’s chances of success.
*(The researchers defined “good jobs” as “those that pay at least $35,000 a year and at least $45,000 for workers 45 and older, and $65,000 in median earnings in 2016.”)