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Minnesota is 2nd in need for well-educated workforce by 2018, new report says

As well-educated boomers retire, the young people rising to replace them include large numbers of recent immigrants and minorities — who currently drop out of high school at alarming rates.

A new national report offers this impressive prediction: Minnesota faces stand-out demand for workers with education beyond high school.

That sounds great, you might say.

Actually, though, it poses urgent challenges for the state’s leadership.

While a generation of educated Minnesota workers is poised to retire during the next decade, the young people rising to replace them include greater proportions than the state has seen in many decades of recent immigrants and minorities. And students in those groups drop out of high school at alarming rates.

Meanwhile, state funding for higher education has been slashed in the face of a state budget crisis. In response, tuition has skyrocketed at public colleges and universities.

So Minnesota faces a race to meet the coming demand for a well-educated workforce.

Second only to Washington, D.C.
The definitive new report [PDF] is from the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce. It predicts that 70 percent of the jobs in Minnesota will require post-secondary education in the year 2018.

Only the Washington, D.C., area faces a higher demand for educated workers, at 71 percent of jobs. By comparison, just 49 percent of the jobs in West Virginia, the lowest ranking state, will require workers with post-secondary educations in 2018.   

North Dakota ties with Minnesota in terms of the proportional demand for educated workers. But because our neighboring state has a smaller overall workforce, the actual number of jobs North Dakota is poised to add is much smaller: Minnesota should prepare to add 152,000 jobs for highly educated workers compared with 14,000 in North Dakota.

Looking at the future from a different perspective, Minnesota will add just 28,000 jobs for high-school dropouts and those who stop their schooling with a high-school diploma, the report predicts. Minnesota will rank near the bottom of states, 48th, in jobs for high-school dropouts.

To review the balance: 152,000 new Minnesota jobs calling for educated workers vs. 28,000 jobs for workers at the lower levels of education and training.

Goes around, comes around
It’s no fluke that analysts at Georgetown U place Minnesota near the top of the heap in terms of states with needs for well-educated workers.

This is a measure of a goes-around-comes-around labor market. Minnesota has long stood out as a state expecting kids all to be above average, if you will — to graduate from high school and go on to at least some college or a technical school. Thus, it’s a place where a company needing elite workers — say, a medical device manufacturer — could thrive. 

Minnesota students have measured up to the challenge, ranking near the best in the nation in completing high school, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. And they’ve stood above the national average in terms of getting at least some college.

But, of course, the past is no guarantee of the future. There are several reasons the state can’t take its standing for granted.

Can’t trust the rearview mirror
For starters, the Great Recession has shuffled the mix of jobs, changing demand for some skills and raising the education requirements for some work.  

“As long as we remain focused on the economic wreckage in our rearview mirror, we will be hurtling into our economic future unprepared,” says the Georgetown U report.

The industries that survived the recession and are poised for growth — such as computer and data processing services — require work¬ers with higher education levels. Further, occupations as a whole are steadily requiring more education.

The implications “represent a sea change in American society,” the report says.

Minnesota’s job future by 2018

• Minnesota will add 152,000 jobs requiring education and training beyond high school.

• Jobs for high school graduates and dropouts will grow by 28,000.

• Counting openings due to retirement, Minnesota will create 902,000 job vacancies — 620,000 for those with postsecondary credentials, 227,000 for high school graduates and 55,000 for high school dropouts.

• Seventy percent of all jobs will require some training beyond high school.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

“Essentially, postsecondary education or training has become the threshold requirement for access to middle-class status and earnings in good times and in bad,” the report says. “It is no longer the preferred pathway to middle-class jobs — it is, increasingly, the only pathway.”

Who replaces the well-educated boomers?
A second reason state leaders need to pay serious attention to this “sea change” is the impending retirement of the baby boomers.

The report’s specific analysis of Minnesota’s jobs future shows that the state will create 902,000 job vacancies during the decade ending in 2018.

The bulk of those openings will come from retirements. Some 700,000 boomers in Minnesota are expected to contemplate retirement during the next decade.

Jack Geller counts himself among that “extremely well-educated” boomer generation. He heads the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Department at the University of Minnesota, Crookston. He also is a leading expert on rural areas in the Upper Midwest.

“We are going to be retiring, and all of these jobs are going to be opening up,” he said.

Jack Geller
Jack Geller

For decades, Minnesota has filled such labor gaps with “economic immigrants” from its own rural areas and from those in neighboring states — young adults from small towns in the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin who flocked to jobs in the Twin Cities and other metro areas in the state. 

That era has passed. And the growth in Minnesota’s workforce is coming from a new group of economic immigrants — those born in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America.

“If that population can’t find the academic success to fill the jobs of the future, then Minnesota is going to be hurting,” Geller said.

Education investment ‘sorely needed’
A significant portion of foreign-born Minnesotans already have good educations — roughly 31 percent of them hold a four-year college degree or higher, according to a profile of the state’s immigrant population by Minnesota Compass, part of a research arm of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation in St. Paul. 

On the other hand, 28 percent of the foreign-born adults lack a high-school degree or GED. That is starkly different from the current Minnesota workers who were born in the United States — just 7 percent of whom lack high-school degrees or the equivalent.

And recent immigrants in some of the fastest growing groups continue to drop out of high school at alarming rates. Only 55 percent of Latino boys were staying in Minnesota’s high schools long enough to earn diplomas, according to the state Department of Education.

Katherine Fennelly
Katherine Fennelly

“Larger investments in the education of the children of immigrants are sorely needed in Minnesota,” said a report [PDF] compiled last year for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and other groups by Anne Huart and professor Katherine Fennelly of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute.

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“The state has one of the highest graduation rates in the country for white children, and one of the lowest for Latino youth,” it said.

Closing that gap is ranked by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development as one of the most significant challenges facing the state.

Fractured middle class
Minnesota is far from alone in confronting that challenge.

As the United States struggles to pull out of the recession, its middle class is breaking into two opposing streams: upwardly mobile college haves and downwardly mobile college have-nots.

“Dropouts, high school graduates, and people with some college but no degree are on the down escalator of social mobility, falling out of the middle-income class,” says the Georgetown U report.

Since 1983, earnings of high school dropouts have fallen by 2 percent while people with some college or an Associate’s degree earned increases of 15 percent and those with Bachelor’s degrees gained 34 percent.

Even if full recovery comes, it will be “a hollow accomplishment” for those on the bottom educational rungs, the report said.

“Hundreds of thousands of low-skill jobs in manufactur¬ing, farming, fishing, and forestry have been permanently destroyed because the recession has further prompted employ¬ers to either automate those positions or ship them offshore to take advantage of cheap labor,” it said.

Further, education served as a shield during the recession. Workers with college degrees had the lowest unemployment rates over the past three years. They also were among the first hired in the recovery.

Recession hit minorities hard
Meanwhile, minority groups were devastated, with 12.6 percent of Latinos and 16.5 percent of African Americans unemployed.

Keep in mind that some of those same minority groups make up the fastest growing segments of Minnesota workforce. State leaders and many social-service organizations have worked to improve their high-school graduation rates and to smooth transitions into training beyond high school.

Much remains to be done though.

The all-important educational gains don’t have to come from colleges alone. Many of today’s workers have gained their skills through on-the-job training.

But here’s the catch: College graduates are almost twice as likely as high-school grads to receive formal training from their employers.

In other words, colleges and technical schools are the gateway.

So let’s ask all our gubernatorial candidates this year: What will you do to keep those gates wide open to everyone?

Sharon Schmickle covers science, economics, international affairs and other subjects.