Home-grown workers need better education, more tech skills.

In a recent speech at the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Brookings Institution vice president and Metropolitan Policy Program director Amy Liu stressed the importance of improving education and skills training for our regional workforce.  She noted that only 33% of 25-34 year-old workers born in Washington have a bachelor’s degree or higher – a level of education increasingly needed to secure living-wage jobs in a modern economy.  To make up for this deficit, regional employers rely on transplants – from other states and countries.

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A peek at the Employment Security Department’s  top 25 occupations advertised online for King County in September reveals a high concentration of living-wage jobs that require at least a bachelor’s degree, often coupled with additional training, experience, licensing, or credentials. For example, the top 7 occupations accounted for 21,117 job postings.  Of those:

  • Only 1 (registered nurse, with 2,451 job postings and an average annual salary of $85,897) does not require a bachelor’s degree.
  • The other 6 occupations (software developers, “other computer occupations,” marketing managers, web developers, network and computer systems administrators, and computer systems analysts) all require at least a bachelor’s degree, and pay an average salary of $109,612.

Even if the skills needed to do a job haven’t changed, the qualifications needed to get the job probably have.  How the Recession ‘Upskilled’ Your Job, a posting on The Atlantic’s CITYLAB, uses data from the National Bureau of Economic Research to show how employers use recessions to restructure their work forces. In 2015, online job ads were 12% more likely to require more education, more experience, or more specific cognitive skills – for the same job – compared to pre-recession postings.

In King County, however, tech skills are highly valued, and this is reflected in the specific skills included in job postings.  Only 4 of the 25 top skills listed in the past 3 months of online ads were non-technical (quality assurance, customer relationship management, pediatrics, and bilingual).

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Today’s workers need to “upskill” – both for jobs that haven’t really changed much and for those that depend on regular upgrading of skills and education.  Amy Liu called on government, educators, and employers to help bridge the skills gap:   “The region can build on its promising efforts by focusing on helping local students and working-age adults gain the education and skills needed to attain good jobs generated by its robust economy.”

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Washington’s Employment Security Department provides extensive information about different occupations, including wage estimates, job listings, employment requirements, training opportunities, and whether demand is rising, falling, or staying the same.   The WorkForce  website offers an assortment of tools and resources for job-seekers and employers.  King County’s Office of Economic and Financial Analysis has recently updated data on employment trends in King County and on associations between educational attainment and wages and employment.

Seattle Jobs Initiative leads national food-stamps-to-jobs center

The US Department of Agriculture has selected the Seattle Jobs Initiative to create and begin operating the nation’s first Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment and Training “Center of Excellence.” Partnering with the federal Food and Nutrition Service, the Center will help 10 states (as yet unnamed) to build on Seattle Jobs Initiative’s experience in providing education and job training to SNAP participants.

According to KPLU.org, Seattle Jobs Initiative helped Washington state develop a job training program that linked more than 10,000 people to training and apprenticeships in 2013 and 2014. The heart of the new Center will be a digital platform that will enable states to share information, ideas, and tools that help people move to financial independence.

Communities Count’s recently updated food indicators show that, while the King County economy may be booming, the need for food assistance has not declined since the recession.  Not surprisingly, food hardship (running out of food and not having money to buy more) is strongly linked to unemployment.

Early Childhood Key to Education & Health

In a New Public Health Q & A, the director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health goes beyond simplistic explanations of the stronger-than-ever link between education and health. He points out that “health education” is less important than economic opportunity, family-friendly benefits, and early childhood interventions that help children get on a path to success. See Communities Count data on links between education and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), obesity, tobacco use, physical activity, and health insurance.