Which jobs offer best prospects as Minnesota climbs out of recession?

Which jobs offer best prospects as Minnesota climbs out of recession?

Students who walk into Sarah Hover’s office at Inver Hills Community College can expect to hear this lesson born of the Great Recession: It is “absolutely critical” to study job prospects as if that were the subject of tomorrow’s big exam.

In a profound sense, that is tomorrow’s test for students of all ages who are trying to position themselves for work after the economic recovery. The recession has churned Minnesota’s job market to the point where some jobs have all but evaporated while others are surfacing as top prospects for the future.

Now, counselors like Hover — the college’s director of career and employment services — are stressing more than ever before that no one should take the past as a promise a job will be there in the future.

“A student has to be well-informed … to do the research,” she said. “You need to know who would hire you.”

The students Hover sees already have made one critical step toward better job prospects: They’re at Inver Hills learning new skills and earning degrees.

One of the recession’s major effects was to accelerate a trend that had been under way before the meltdown of the housing and financial industries, said Mary Rothchild, director for strategic partnerships at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Like our politics, our job market increasingly is polarized.

“Future job growth will be strong for high-skill jobs, for people with two- or four-year degrees or certification in, say, information technology,” Rothchild said.

Indeed, Minnesota is positioned to add tens of thousands of jobs for skilled workers by 2013 — more than 8,000 nurses, 1,228 biomedical engineers and 1,351 network systems and data communications analysts — according to projections calculated for MnSCU by EMSI, Strategic Advantage. The projections are based on refinements of data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

That’s the bright end of the polarization spectrum. The other end is less promising for Minnesota’s economy.

“The growth will be strong as well in those jobs that do not require much education, like nursing assistants, home health aides, building cleaning people and sales,” Rothchild said.

“Strong” may be too weak a word.

EMSI projects explosive growth in the ranks of home health aides: more than 13,000 additional jobs by 2013. Add to that a gain of 6,000 jobs cleaning buildings, 5,000 in property and community association management and 3,000 in grounds maintenance.

While that may be good news for low-skilled workers, pay for those jobs is low too. 

Collapse of the middle
What’s dropping out of Minnesota’s labor economy is the middle. Gone are the old days when a kid could graduate high school or even drop out early, land work at the nearest factory or mine, train on the job and settle in for a reasonably good life — a paycheck big enough to meet the mortgage with something left over for a pickup, a fishing boat and family vacations. 

Robots in this country and low-paid workers in developing countries are doing those jobs.

Thousands of jobs Minnesota has lost in manufacturing — machinist work, welding and soldering, tool and dye making, electronic assembling and machine tool setting — aren’t coming back. Instead, the state should brace to lose even more jobs in those fields.

One of many reasons the polarization is so worrisome for workers and the state’s overall economy too is that the jobs that are disappearing pay about $15 to $20 an hour. For unskilled workers, they likely will be replaced with jobs paying $10 to $12.

Machinists, for example, currently earn about $19 an hour in Minnesota. The state faces the loss of 400 of those jobs over the next four years. A machinist would have to take two jobs in property-association management — paying $9.67 an hour — to pocket the same wages. Home health care aides do just slightly better, earning $11.72 an hour.

‘I want to be happy’
Of course, decisions about a lifetime career can’t be driven by data alone.

Melissa Bietz, 24, sat in Hover’s counseling office at Inver Hills Community College describing her agonizing career tradeoff.

The Great Recession has punished Bietz’s generation brutally. Numerous friends, including her boyfriend, have lost their jobs. They’ve cobbled together seasonal jobs in landscaping and similar work, but that will end come winter.

Sarah Hover, Director of Career and Employment Services at Inver Hills Community College, left, discussed career prospects with student Melissa Bietz.
MinnPost photo by Sharon Schmickle
Sarah Hover, director of Career and Employment Services at Inver Hills Community College, left, discussed career prospects with student Melissa Bietz.

Bietz has snagged occasional part-time and seasonal work in restaurants and retail stores. Paying the bills is a struggle, though.

“Is it ever going to get better?” she wondered.

Nursing pops out as a path to a better future when she searches the databases Hover provides. Her parents push nursing too, arguing that with baby boomers growing older, demand for nurses will grow in tandem.

Bietz shadowed a nurse and talked to friends who are nurses. That work is not for her, she concluded.

What she really wants to be is an elementary schoolteacher, knowing full well the work will pay less and a job could be harder to land.

“I want to be happy,” Bietz explained. “Getting up and going to a job I don’t like? I’d be miserable the rest of my life. What would make me happy is helping little kids learn.”

Such are the complexities of matching the next workforce for the work that will be available after recovery from the recession.

And the recession is far from the only factor shuffling Minnesota’s future workplace. Technology and the impending retirements of the baby boomers are mighty factors too.

In an article about workers the recession is leaving permanently behind, the New York Times recently profiled an administrative assistant from Jacksonville, Fla.

In Minnesota, jobs for executive secretaries and administrative assistants are poised to grow, not shrink. According to the EMSI projections, the state will add nearly 5,000 jobs in that category over the next four years — about an 8 percent growth.

Still, the point the Times was making applies here too: Some jobs never will come back. And that’s as true in the office as it is on the factory floor.

One reason administrative assistants remain in demand is that their duties have shifted as technology revolutionized offices.

To be sure, their bosses dictate far fewer formal letters and instead peck out quick emails on Blackberries and laptops. But the administrative assistant who kept pace with technology has plenty of work to do in archiving and retrieving data, preparing Power Point presentations for the boss and booking quick travel arrangements online.

Examples of jobs Minnesota is expected to shed

Examples of jobs MInnesota is expected to shed
Source: EMSI, Strategic Advantage — 1st Quarter 2010

The jobs that aren’t coming back to Minnesota’s offices are those once held by file clerks, reservation and ticket agents and office support staff.

In other words, one person can do the white-collar work once done by many. And the recession hastened that shift.

From cockpit to farm, jobs gone for good
The recession also pushed down hard on pockets of Minnesota’s economy that had their own problems to start with:

• Consolidations and mergers in the airline industry — notably, the sale of Northwest Airlines to Delta — will cost Minnesota jobs that may never come back. The state stands to lose about 8 percent of its pilots and flight engineers by 2013, a loss of some 267 high-paying jobs. Another 330 jobs for transportation attendants are expected to fall away.

• Retrenchment in the news and publishing industries has cost jobs in everything from printing to bookbinding and is expected to erase hundreds more.

• Hard times on hog and dairy farms have served as the latest reminder that agriculture must stay lean and efficient in order to profit. The state is set to shed some 5,000 jobs for agricultural managers. 

Creative, flexible and skilled
Even in a secure occupation, a worker can invite trouble by failing to keep technical skills up to date, said Daniel Wagner, a consultant to MnSCU and other clients through the Minnesota Future Work program.

Believe it or not, manufacturing even could be a promising field for workers who upgrade technical skills and education — especially those who know how to operate and repair sophisticated computer-controlled machinery, Wagner said.

“The Minnesota manufacturing industry is alive and healthy, but it is decreasing in employment numbers,” he said.

Examples of jobs expected to grow in Minnesota

Examples of jobs expected to grow in Minnesota
Source: EMSI, Strategic Advantage — 1st Quarter 2010

At the same time, a generation of trained workers is approaching retirement, and manufacturers are “going to have a tremendous need for technical trained workers,” he said.

The recession’s biggest blows are behind us now. And companies are at a point where they should start hiring because the use of temporary help nationwide recently has spurted up — even higher than during the leading edge of recovery from the 2001 recession.

Job hunters would be wise, though, to consider taking internships and temporary contract jobs where “the employer gets to see you and try you out,” Wagner said.

The industries that held steady through the worst of the recession, he said, are the ones now poised to lead us to recovery: health care, social assistance and scientific and technical jobs such as telecommunications engineers. Education should be a leader too although that sector has been crimped by budget problems in state and local government.

Some jobs on Wagner’s good-prospects list include:

• Computer security and other scientific-technical work

• Almost any health-related occupation

• Accountants and auditors (In the wake of financial scandals, companies are pressed to be more vigilant and transparent.)

• Management analysts (Companies know they need to stay lean to survive.)   

One enduring lesson from the recession is that workers are going to have to be more flexible and creative, said Hover, the career director at Inver Hills Community College.

“Even during the recession, I have seen students getting jobs,” she said. “Those were the people who thought creatively about where to find work.”

A nurse who couldn’t get into a hospital found work, for example, at a home-health-care agency.

“It’s been more challenging, but we are getting more job postings now, and students are getting more second interviews,” Hover said. “The clouds are breaking more than they were a year ago. For sure.”

Sharon Schmickle covers science, the economy and other topics for MinnPost.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 06/10/2010 - 04:06 pm.

    Good article Ms. Schmickle, am disappointed that no one else has commented.

  2. Submitted by James Hamilton on 06/11/2010 - 08:56 am.

    Thanks, I forwarded this piece to my son, a recent high school grad, reconsidering his options.

  3. Submitted by sarah ryan on 06/12/2010 - 01:05 am.

    I had to laugh at the jobs expected to grow stats when it comes to nursing. 8 thousand jobs and avg pay $32/hr ? Sounds great! Only problem is that new nursing grads for the last 2 years have had to fight and claw to get any kind of nursing job, 99% of the time, not hospital jobs. The nursing home nursing jobs or home health nurse jobs and are lucky if you get $20/hr and are seldom full time. The projected growth will be in specialty areas where experience is key. The problem is that today’s new grads are being locked out of experience gaining opportunities in the hospital setting so in 5 years we will have very few quality replacements ready to take these jobs. Many of the new nursing grads this last year are burned out from poor working conditions, poor pay and benefits and are dropping out of nursing all together.

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