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

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.

“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.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Jim Bartholomew on 06/30/2010 - 11:53 am.

    Good article about why closing the achievement gap between students of color and white students matters to our future success! With one of the largest achievement gaps in the U.S., successful completion of post-secondary programs for students of color is a long-shot. A key to closing these gaps and preparing all students for higher ed. is to ensure MN’s K-12 standards line-up with college-readiness expectations. We also need to ensure high school graduates can meet these expectations so they don’t need remedial coursework when they get into higher-ed (students needing remedial coursework usually don’t complete post-secondary programs). Needs-based financial aid is important, but if students aren’t academically prepared their (and our) chances of success are severely limited.

  2. Submitted by Rich Crose on 06/30/2010 - 01:43 pm.

    The ones who should be concerned are the large corporations. It is difficult to recruit college graduates from other parts of the country because of our infamous Minnesota winters. Offering a premium salary will only cut into profits.

    I foresee a verticalization of our education system coming in the future. Corporations offering educational recruiting packages –grants, scholarships and a promise of a job to high school students who promise to finish their college education at a school of the corporation’s choice. The corporation supports the school but has input on the curriculum. A sort of corporate ROTC.

    The alternative is to pay more taxes to support public schools, gambling that the kids will learn something the corporation needs.

  3. Submitted by William Levin on 06/30/2010 - 02:52 pm.

    Actually, the people concerned about this would include boomers who will retire in Minnesota and those who will retire elsewhere with pensions or investments managed by people in Minnesota. That would be me and about everyone I know….

  4. Submitted by Janet Tauer on 06/30/2010 - 03:06 pm.

    With such a sea change coming and baby-boomers retiring, we can’t afford to let anyone slip through the cracks and waste their potential. We must target low income, first generation youth AND adults with help to access, succeed, and graduate from college. People from the low income and in homes where the parents did not go to college are the least likely to attend, even when at the top of their classes. TRiO is fighting this battle, but the combination of rising tuition, and flat funding for 9 years for TRiO means less services and programs available to help. The projected loss of Student Support Services/TRiO projects this year will affect thousands. Google the Council for Opportunity in Education.The upcoming competitions for these grants are predicted to fund less than the currently funded number, just at a time when colleges are desperate for help and students are trying to come to college in increasing numbers and need the support that goes along with a Pell grant.

  5. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 06/30/2010 - 03:46 pm.

    Omitted from this otherwise excellent story is the fact that our college graduation rates are lousy.

    As Joe Nathan ( it:

    The surprising news comes in looking at graduation rates, whether at Minnesota’s two or four year institutions. Let’s start with two-year programs. As of 2005, 65.7 percent of South Dakota’s students who
    entered a two-year institution graduated within 3 years. Alaska, which ranked second, had a three-year graduation rate of 57.4%, and Wyoming (third) had 56.7%.

    Minnesota ranked 24th, with a three-year graduation rate in our community and technical colleges of 34%. That’s 30% below South Dakota. Yikes!


    Some surprising long-timers in the education field bear some responsibility for this failure, see “College Graduation Rates in Lake Wobegon Country Not All Above Average.”

    Time for a change in higher ed, including at Flagship U?

  6. Submitted by Robert Freeman on 07/01/2010 - 10:31 am.

    Agree with Jim. The best thing the state can do for these kids is to make sure they have a good teacher at the head of every classroom. Nothing that happens in their school is going to make more of a difference in whether they go to college.

  7. Submitted by Mike Beard on 07/06/2010 - 01:07 pm.

    I agree with Mr. Freeman stressing we need GOOD teachers..not necessarily MORE teachers (attention Education Minnesota).

  8. Submitted by Cheryl Conner Asvang on 11/17/2010 - 08:38 am.

    I hope the school board demands Great teachers! I worked with a young lady that was completing her last year of college, she was studying to be a teacher. She asked me if I would read her paper that she was going to turn in the following day. Every other word was misspelled. She told me she already had been promised a position at a school teaching junior high students. I was appalled that she was going to be teaching and she didn’t know how to spell correctly. This was in Rochester Minnesota! How can we expect our children to have a great education when we hire teachers like this to teach them? I know this must be happening all over the United States. How can we allow this to happen? How can our young people keep up with the rest of the world when they have a poor education? We will not have a great country if we have a poor education system. I suggest everyone watch the movie Waiting for Superman. It is about our broken education system, not just in Minnesota but in every state. We need to demand Great teachers, excellent schools and INCREASED literacy. Fewer than 30 percent of our students nationwide are meeting standards in English and Math!!! To better prepare our students for success in college and the workforce, our governor must implement the Common Core Standards in our state.

  9. Submitted by Eric Andersen on 02/20/2013 - 11:54 am.

    Great Teachers

    Yes we do need great teachers. The only thing keeping the teaching profession attactive to anyone is the teacher unions. When I was just out of college, with my science and physics teaching degrees, recruiters from southern states, as persistent as they were, had no chance in convincing me to go and work in their state. A teacher would have to be an idiot to choose the low pay, few benefits, nonexistent budgets and no job security that ‘Right to Work’ states with weak/no teacher unions provide. In the race to attract the greatest teachers Minnesota is quickly falling behind. Minnesota ranks 36th in K-12 teacher salary increases over the past decade. If this keeps up the best and brightest teachers will listen to their smart brains and go elsewhere.

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