Archive for July 2010

The Pursuit — of Happiness and Work

July 1, 2010

As we prepare to celebrate America’s 2010 Independence Day, I’m drawn again to those inspiring words from the Declaration, that all men and women are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  Of course, there is no hard and fast definition of how an individual should pursue happiness.  But works I’ve perused lately by Daniel Pink (“Drive”) and Malcolm Gladwell (“Outliers”) confirm the intuition that work is part of the equation of happiness.  Work that is of value to others, that requires and enables some level of autonomy and creativity, and provides adequate remuneration — this kind of work provides a sense of accomplishment and contribution, and those are ingredients of inner worth and happiness.

So with that send-up to liberty, and the right to meaningful, happiness-inducing work, I want to talk about the future of work and education in the United States.

A few weeks ago (June 15), one of the nation’s most respected labor economists, Anthony (Tony) Carnevale, with his colleagues Nicole Smith and Jeff Strohl at he Georgetown Univeristy Center on Education and the Workforce, released an important new report: “Help Wanted, Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018.”

This report provides the most up-to-date and clear analysis of where the workforce in the U.S. is headed.  Yes, jobs are becoming more and more skill-rich and knowledge-driven, and the rising generation of American workers need to be well educated to have a good shot in the knowledge economy.  Carnevale forecasts that by 2018, “63 percent of all jobs will require at least some postsecondary education.”

Now, perhaps you may have heard numbers in the past that said 80 percent of jobs would (or do) require postsecondary education.  That common factoid is really the result of data-driven “sleight of hand.”  When you look deeper, the data really said that about 8 in 10 of the “fastest growing jobs” required postsecondary education.  Of course, those fast growing jobs in high tech and biomedical and health could be relatively few in number compared to the overall number of jobs in the economy.  This Georgetown Analysis looks at all jobs in the economy, not just the fastest growing sectors.

Also, be aware that this analysis does NOT say that 63 percent of jobs in 2018 will require a bachelor’s degree.  The projection is that about 17 percent will require some postsecondary education, 12 percent will require an associate’s degree, 23 percent a bachelor’s degree, and 10 percent a master’s degree or better.

Carnevale also points out that different occupational clusters will have different concentrations of postsecondary.  “In 2018, 75-90 percent of jobs in the following industries: Information Services; Private Education Services; Government and Public Education Services: Financial Services: Professional and Businesses Services and Healthcare Services will require postsecondary education or training.”  What is interesting is that these industries will represent about 40 percent of all jobs in 2018, but since they are heavily oriented toward postsecondary education, it raises the overall average of jobs needing postsecondary learning.  The forecast says that 10 percent of jobs will be available for high school dropouts, and another 28 percent will be available for those with just high school diplomas.  That’s about 3 percent fewer jobs than were available in 2007, so those downward wage pressures on low-skilled work are likely to continue and the wage gap between skilled and non-skilled to stay very large (of course, the recession and prolonged unemployment will probably skew those earnings numbers significantly).

Another interesting finding.  In thinking about these higher demand industry sectors, individual career choices drive wages more than just the level of degree or certificate earned.  “That’s why 27 percent of people with certificates and 31 percent of people with AA degrees earn more than the average BA.”   We need to get away from those simplistic analyses that say, BA holders earn xx dollars more than associates degrees, and xx more than certificate holders.  It’s all about the specific skills and the occupational choice, not just the generic level of education.

Thank you, Dr. Carnevale and your colleagues for conducting and sharing this valuable analysis.  As you indicate, education and skills matter a great deal.  This message to our young people is more important than ever.  But educators, business partners, parents and other interested adults need to more carefully craft our messages to young people.  The message needs to move beyond the very simplistic, post-World War II message of “college for all” to a more nuanced and accurate message something akin to “Get Smart, Get Schooled and Get Skilled.”

And just as important as a basic package of learning skills and motivation toward meaningful work, we need to help our youth take advantage of tools so they can make a series of thoughtful, reasoned and informed career navigation decisions over the course of their life journey.

The pursuit of meaningful, value-producing work goes hand in hand with the Pursuit of Happiness, as well as taking full advantage of Life and Liberty.    I hope we can keep facilitating the convergence of education, employers and the economy with tighter linkages and connections among these.  This convergence is essential to helping the next generation of Americans be more successful in its pursuit of meaningful, valuable and happiness-producing work.

Happy Independence Day!