Pennsylvania mirrors the nation when it comes to job trends for people with some college experience but no bachelor’s degree.
That was one of the key findings members of the Higher Education Funding Commission hearing held recently at West Chester University.
Nearly half of the nearly 2.5 million “good jobs” in the state are filled by workers who do not have a bachelor’s degree, said Martin Van Der Werf, an associate director of editorial and postsecondary policy at the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.
He said the center defines a good job as one that offers full-time work with benefits and pays more than $35,000 a year, or $45,000 for workers 45 and up.
Those non-bachelor’s individuals with good jobs are considered middle-skill workers, an important sector the state will need to make sure gets the training needed to work in a job market where technology is changing skills sets needed at a rapid pace.
“It’s important that you meet them where they are and in a way that can maximize their potential,” Van Der Werf said. “It might change the way you think about your funding formulas.”
He added that 54% of middle-skill Pennsylvanians are working blue collar jobs. However, that’s changing, too, as more skilled-service jobs are opening. From 1991 to 2015, Pennsylvania lost nearly 246,000 good blue-collar jobs for non-bachelor’s workers. The state gained 143,000 good skilled services jobs during the same span.
Joan Wodiska, CEO of Pioneer Management Consulting, told the commission that middle-skill job holders have a unique need in that they must receive continual training as technology advances.
“Middle-skill jobs are the heart and soul of the American economy, without question,” she said. “And they are the future of U.S. competitiveness.”
In Pennsylvania, those workers make up 54% of the state’s labor market, she said. However, only 43% have sufficient training for those jobs.
She said that all workers must have access to the postsecondary education and training they need to compete for and obtain the good jobs that will be available. That training must be flexible to meet the students’ needs and it also must be affordable.
As a result, high-speed broadband access will be a necessity for workers, especially in Pennsylvania rural communities. Along with that, higher education institutions will also need to change with the times. The era people completing their education with a high school diploma, a training certificate or college degree is winding down.
“Education is no longer a finish line, it’s now become a life’s work that’s never done,” Wodiska said.
The commission is a 19-member panel created from a state law passed last year. The lawmakers and officials from the Wolf Administration that serve on the commission have been charged with determining how higher education funds should be distributed.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-West Chester, the minority chairman of the Senate Education Committee, helped arrange Wednesday’s session. From this and other meetings, the group will report its findings to the administration and lawmakers by July.
“Our job is to figure out and provide a draft, a chart of possibilities, and to make sure that our spending reflects where we need to go in terms of our economic prosperity,” Dinniman said at the hearing.