By: William Morris
April 26, 2017
For generations, high school students have set their sights on college as the key to good, well-paying jobs. But as Minnesota struggles with a persistent workforce shortage, state and local officials say the reality can be a bit more complicated.
Analysts at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development say the state has about 109,000 job-seekers and 97,000 vacancies, a ratio of 1.1 to 1. In 2009, during the recession, that ratio was as high as 8.2 to 1. That’s much better news for job-seekers, but comes with a caveat: Many of the fastest-growing job categories are in careers with relatively few educational requirements, such as food preparation and serving, personal care and service and sales.
In fact, according to DEED, there’s a mismatch between the education workers have completed and the jobs they hold.
“The direction of the misalignment … is primarily toward over-education,” according to an article published in December by two DEED analysts. “That in itself is not a bad thing, but the problem arises when over-education leads to mal-employment, where graduates from postsecondary programs are unable to find work in their fields and thus take jobs requiring lower levels of skill.”
Sonji Davis, DEED area manager for Rice and Steele County WorkForce development, said businesses and educators struggle to give young people a realistic idea of the job market.
“Many young people don’t realize that a four-year option is a great option, but it’s not the only option,” she said. “Just being able to make an informed decision with all the facts, that there may be jobs just down the street that they have no idea about.”
Davis, whose office works with Owatonna High School and the United Way of Steele County to provide career counseling services, said that as many as 25 percent of high school seniors leave school with no clear plan for their future, but there’s a societal expectation that pushes many students toward post-secondary education. As a result, up to 40 percent of those who enroll in such programs return home without degrees, she said.
“A lot of that goes back to the family mindset, that I want my child to win. I want them positioned to compete with others,” she said. “Many of those feel that the playing field is leveled when they have a four-year degree, or even a two-year degree at this point.”
Whatever the reason, it presents a quandary for future employees. According to DEED, more than 64 percent of jobs in the state require a high school diploma or less. Meanwhile, the state Office of Higher Education reports that as of 2014, 69 percent of high school graduates enrolled in some sort of post-secondary education straight out of school.
“I do feel like there are inefficiencies, but it’s hard to pinpoint how that happens,” Davis said.
According to DEED, almost 30 percent of workers surveyed in jobs requiring a high school education or less hold at least an associate’s degree. Among jobs requiring an associate’s degree, more than 45 percent of workers have bachelor’s or graduate degrees.
Davis said she works with a group of local educators and employers to help raise awareness of well-paying jobs that don’t require additional education. And asked what advice she would give to current students, Davis said she sees two general types of learner.
“I am a strong proponent of education, but education comes in many forms. I think if you’re someone cut out to go to college and get your four-year degree, that’s wonderful … but I also believe that we shouldn’t underestimate that being college-ready can be the same as being career ready,” she said. “I think either way, the better prepared you are for the job, the more successful you’ll be. I think there are two courses, and that individual has to decide what’s best for them.”
William Morris got his start in the newspaper trade as a recurring editorial intern in Wisconsin and has been writing about business, government and crime at the Owatonna People’s Press since 2015. He is now taking the reins of Forge as Associate Editor.