the education divide is the jobs divide, and it’s the biggest issue of our time.

A lot of discussion post-election has been around the cultural and ideological divide by education level. Those without a college degree were much more likely to vote for Donald Trump, while those with a college degree were much more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton. This split was not as clear by income level or employment status. Those with a higher income and high-wage job without a degree were still more likely to vote for Trump compared to their more highly educated counterparts. Why? This divide is less about the jobs people have, and much more about the jobs people have access to.

The education divide is the jobs divide, and it’s the biggest issue of our time.

The median income for full-time workers in 1979 was higher for those without a 4-year degree than it is now. Working full-time no longer guarantees you will be able to support a family. It doesn’t even guarantee you’ll be able to support yourself. Mid-wage jobs have been disappearing, leaving Americans without a college degree with few opportunities. Service jobs, traditionally low-wage jobs, are the opportunities that remain. Jobs formerly reserved for teenagers transitioning into adulthood are now permanent. They’re no longer stepping stones; they’re the end of the line. But they hardly provide a livable wage. Those without a college degree will make, on average, less than $30,000 a year. As a result, too many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, unable to save for the future.

You might argue that since income did not show a strong correlation, jobs can’t tell the whole story. But current circumstance is different than opportunity. Even if you have a job, that job might not be secure in the future. The unemployment rate is much higher for those without a degree. The difference in education leads to a difference in opportunity. It’s not a coincidence that Trump over performed where the economy is weaker and jobs are more routine. If your job isn’t secure, your future isn’t secure. That trend will continue as robots become more integrated into our workforce further displacing jobs.

North Carolina is a perfect example of the wedge between opportunity and a lack of opportunity.

Opportunity

  • 3 of the most highly educated counties in the country are in North Carolina, they all voted for Clinton.
  • Tech, pharmaceutical, and financial clusters in North Carolina are growing at some of the fastest rates in the country and have some of the lowest unemployment rates.

Lack of Opportunity

  • 8 of the least highly educated counties in the country are in North Carolina, they voted for Trump.
  • 3 out of the top 10 metro areas with the greatest economic losses in the past 15 years, mostly due to offshoring and displaced jobs, are also located in North Carolina.

It doesn’t have to be this way! We can fix this! And we can fix it regardless of which President is in office.

First, we need to determine which industries will have sustainable high wage jobs long-term.

What are the jobs of today, and more importantly, what are the jobs of tomorrow?

There are industries that are growing fast, mostly in STEM-related fields. Yet, traditional higher education programs aren’t training workers with the skills needed fast enough to fill these high-demand jobs. Millions of good jobs –high-wage jobs – will go unfilled because of the skills gap over the next decade.

Computer Science  

Every company will become a tech company in the future if they’re not already. With the surge in virtual reality and AI, this demand will only increase. The tech sector shows no signs of slowing down.

In 2016, there were 3 jobs for every new computer science graduate according to The Conference Board. We need to keep up with the demand for skilled workers.

The average software developer salary is $69,000.

High-Tech Manufacturing

Over the next decade, the manufacturing industry will add 3.5 million jobs. A staggering 2 million will go unfilled because there won’t be enough qualified people to fill them. We still talk about bringing manufacturing jobs back from overseas. Manufacturing jobs have grown at home and reshoring is happening. But, manufacturing is more high-tech than before and relies more on robots. This requires a higher level of skill than the manufacturing jobs of the past. 80% of manufacturers report a moderate or serious shortage of qualified applicants for skilled and highly skilled production positions.

The average manufacturing worker salary is $81,289.

Engineering

In the U.S., engineering jobs require at least a 4-year degree. One of the reasons China became an attractive country for manufacturing was that they had workers with an engineering skill level that was more than a high school education, but less than a college education. We don’t have workers with a similar skill level in the U.S.

Electrical Engineers were one of the hardest positions to fill in 2016. Randstad US estimates there are 17 openings for every electrical engineering candidate.

The average electrical engineer salary is $95,230.

Data Science

Data Science is a booming industry and has strong ties to the tech sector. While it’s not a formal industry that’s tracked at the moment, CareerCast estimates over 4 million data scientists will be hired this year.

The average data scientist salary is over $100,000.

Second, we need to make debt-free workforce development and training for high wage jobs a priority.

President Trump has made an effort to keep some manufacturing jobs in the United States. The problem is, it’s a small number of jobs and it’s often at a huge financial cost. There are more efficient and effective ways to tackle the jobs problem. They’re not being discussed.

Right now we rely heavily on immigration to chip away at the skills gap. But with changes to immigration policies in the works, even that isn’t a guaranteed solution. Luckily, we have plenty of American workers that need jobs. (That is not to say that the immigration policy is okay, simply that there is a supply of workers available).

We can move unemployed displaced workers and the underemployed workers stuck in low-wage jobs into these high-demand high-wage jobs with reskilling, upskilling, and training

The President’s plan for workforce development, if there is one, is still unknown. We don’t know what the next 4 years will bring in Washington D.C.

But, we can make a difference now.

We can make sure that people have access to jobs – good jobs – regardless of what happens in Washington. With proper planning, local policy, and program development, we can fill the jobs of today, as well as the jobs of tomorrow.

One solution is to provide free short-term workforce development programs that combine classroom and experiential learning.

Short-term bootcamps are succeeding in tech and data science. The apprenticeship model has shown great promise in countries like Germany. Ada Developers Academy is a perfect example of a short-term, free, program that combined a 6-month bootcamp with a 6-month apprenticeship that’s working.

I’m working on building similar programs here in the Triangle. Join me in the fight to bring access to good jobs to everyone in North Carolina. We’re starting with tech, but there are big opportunities to move into high-tech manufacturing and engineering. Reach out if you want to get involved.

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