Last month, Jonathan Rothwell, Senior Research Associate and Associate Fellow with the Brookings Institution, released a report analyzing unemployment with respect to job openings versus required educational credentials (“Education, Job Openings, and Unemployment in Metropolitan America”).  The findings were quite helpful to our understanding of the importance of formal education in the job market.

The study looked at, “the 100 largest metropolitan areas from January of 2006 to February of 2012” (p. 1).  Here are a few of the report’s key conclusions that especially caught my attention:

1—“Advertised job openings in large metropolitan areas require more education than all existing jobs, and more education than the average adult has attained.  In the 100 largest metropolitan areas, 43 percent of job openings typically require at least a bachelor’s degree, but just 32 percent of adults 25 and older have earned one.”

This speaks to the great mismatch between the educational requirements of open jobs and the educational attainment of job seekers.  Unfortunately, too many job seekers are coming up short on the sheepskin side of things.  This also reinforces the terrific importance of pursuing higher education to prepare oneself best for a successful and rewarding career.

2—“Metro areas vary considerably in the level of education required by job openings posted online.  Roughly half of openings in San Jose, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. require a bachelor’s degree or higher, while fewer than one-third of openings require a bachelor’s degree in metropolitan McAllen, TX and Youngstown, OH.”

This tells us our employment odds can be very location dependent.  For the job seeker, a careful analysis of the local job market is extremely important.  The report goes on to indicate a shortage of educated workers adds about 2% to the unemployment rate for that geographic area.  That is a sizable difference.

3—“Educational attainment makes workers more employable, creates demand for complementary less educated workers, and facilitates entrepreneurship.  To better train less educated adults, [nonprofit] organizations, community colleges, and governments can use detailed job openings data to align training curricula and certifiable skills with employer demand.”

This observation reminds us how important it is to let the job market inform our formal training efforts.  If we are not listening to our audience, how can we play to them?

The best successes I have witnessed involve community colleges that collaborate with local industries to tailor relevant degree programs, universities that create or perpetuate degree programs with the proper concentrations and course work to produce immediately employable graduates, and nonprofit organizations that coordinate specific training programs to meet the new-hire needs of local companies while taking into consideration their trainees’ limitations.  In these situations, the entities that are able to train are training to the local needs.

That is the value of the Brookings Institution report.  Its challenge is for us to recognize the disconnects in the job market with respect to formal education and training.

Given the times in which we live, the evolution of our technology, our increasingly global connectivity, I believe now more than ever we must wake up to what this report tells us.  The situation isn’t going to get any less complicated.  Nevertheless, we have the power to respond intelligently and strategically to improve the picture for all stakeholders.


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About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Johnson Controls at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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