Thursday, October 18, 2012

Job surge reported for those with two-year degrees


These days, there may be something more valuable to job seekers than a four-year college degree: a two-year college degree.

That’s according to USA Today in a story by Paul Davidson Thursday, Oct. 18.

Davidson reports that Department of Labor figures show employment for Americans with an associate’s degree or some college has increased by 578,000 the past six months to 35.2 million.

That’s in contrast to increase in payrolls by just 314,000 to 46.5 million for those with at least a bachelor’s degree.

“The trend underlines that some of the mid-skill jobs that disappeared in the recession are coming back and it may signal more lasting growth in such occupations,” wrote Davidson. “They include operators of computerized factory machines, heating and air conditioning repair people, X-ray technicians, medical records specialists and low to mid-level managers.”

Anthony Carnevale, head of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, said today’s trend points to growing demand for skilled workers who can be trained relatively quickly.

“Many laid-off workers have returned to community colleges and vocational schools in recent years to rapidly retool for new careers.”

The result has been a 14.6 percent boost in enrollment since 2007 vs. 1.3 percent the previous five years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

By contrast, many recent four-year college graduates have struggled to find work.

“I think the two-year colleges are offering more of an applicable, practical value,” said Thomas Ruhe, vice-president of the Kauffman Foundation which studies entrepreneurship. Many community colleges, he says, have better ties to local employers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 28.1 percent of the total U.S. employment aged 25 and over, have an associate’s degree or some college.

Those with bachelor’s degrees or higher make up 37.2 percent of the workforce; high school graduates 26.7 percent; and those with less than a high school diploma 7.9 percent.

Employment for people with a high school diploma or less has been stagnant since 2010 after plummeting in the downturn.

In recent years, “The share of mid-skill jobs has not grown (sharply) relative to those requiring a bachelor’s degree,” says Carnevale. “But they may have begun to do that.”

Carnevale noted that in recessions, employers lay off lower-skill workers first – and in recoveries, they initially hire higher-skill workers.

Eventually those higher-level managers bring on low to mid-level managers. That’s happening now and so community college graduates are recouping jobs lost in the downturn – a signing of advancing recovery.

After the recession began almost five years ago, many factory, construction and other mid-skill jobs were eliminated even as employment for those with bachelor’s degrees or higher dipped only slightly.

However, in the recovery years of 2010 and 2011, payrolls for four-year college graduates increased at more than twice the rate of those who attending two-year colleges.

“It’s unlike an associate’s degree will become more coveted than a bachelor’s,” said Carnevale. “But the disparity between the two could narrow.”