Immunizing your graduates from economic downturns

[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

As we all know, we are in the midst of a massive economic downturn. Every month is accompanied by reports of additional, large-scale layoffs. People are losing their jobs in significant numbers. And yet, despite claims that job losses are being felt throughout all areas of the economy, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data clearly show that the impacts of this recession are being felt more heavily by some rather than others.

For example, employees with a 4-year college degree or higher are losing their jobs at a much lower rate than other workers [click on image for larger version]:


Similarly, jobs in more ‘professional’ employment sectors are being lost at a much lower rate than those that traditionally have required fewer skills and/or education:


And certain industries are feeling the pain of unemployment much more than others (see more detail if you’re interested):


The numbers here in Iowa parallel what is happening across the nation. For example, although our state is weathering the recession better than many, the latest Iowa Workforce Development report shows that 20,000 of the 22,400 non-agricultural jobs lost over the past year are in manufacturing.

The labor statistics over the past year mirror longer-term trends in the American workforce. As the charts below show, the U.S. is now a country in which 75% of our workforce is employed in what Dr. Richard Florida calls ‘service class’ or ‘creative class’ professions. Lower-skill and lower-wage jobs that fall outside these two categories, such as those in manufacturing, are more likely to be lost both in the short and long term.



Creative-class jobs, which now make up at least a third of the American workforce and are the only segment of the economy that is growing long-term, require different skill sets such as complex communication, critical thinking, and collaborative problem-solving. These are skills for which schools typically have not prepared most of their graduates.



So what do all of these charts tell us? Well, there are no absolute guarantees that your school system’s graduates won’t lose their jobs. But it’s fairly clear that the best way to immunize your graduates from the potential of job loss is to give them the skill sets that they’ll need to 1) acquire an advanced education, and 2) obtain jobs in professional sectors that are long-term growth areas for the American economy (and thus are less vulnerable to short- or long-term downturns). This raises an obvious question, of course: How’s your school system doing at this?

3 Responses to “Immunizing your graduates from economic downturns”

  1. Very interesting post.

    Richard Florida makes another essential point in The Flight of the Creative Class: Service jobs will not go away, yet most service employees earn low wages for low-skilled work. He urges us to find the creative potential of those jobs, lest the job market enforce pay disparities long after schools retool themselves for the 21st century. If we prepare everyone for creative, 21st-century jobs (as well we should), there will always be losers as long as the labor market cannot absorb them.

  2. we’re in a jobless recovery right now, isn’t that true?


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    […] Maybe I own background makes me basis towards believing that we have a generation that is ready to exploit technology in education, and that is why I agree with the “digital native” group. In my personal experience, I have seen a change in my years of teaching from students that thought using computers was a treat, to a vast group of students that expect to use computers on everything. Since we opened up the wireless access in my building, I have seen a rapid rise in the number of laptops in my classrooms. Anybody in education can tell you that you cannot generalize when it comes to the background knowledge of your students. The articles are worried about the labels that we put on students, and I believe that good instruction assess skills and knowledge of their students to maximize the potential of those students. I think that these types of debates are great to bring up concerns and hopes, but the real concern should be that students will need technology skills in most professions that they will pursue after school. We need to teach children how to think and create to make sure that they can be productive citizens in the future. Factory jobs are drying up, and this next generation needs these skills to compete with the world. This website has a great argument for the future of employment of children. […]

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