America's Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs

Harry J. Holzer
Robert I. Lerman
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
The Urban Institute
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

The authors analyze recent employment and wage trend data, as well as projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to investigate the future demand for workers in "middle-skill" jobs –- i.e., those requiring some postsecondary education or training (associate’s degrees, vocational certificates, on-the-job training) but less than a bachelor's degree. This resource will be useful for all stakeholders, and especially education providers, who are involved in strategic planning for workforce development. Some may want to read the "Conclusions" before reading the document. 

Roughly half of all employment today is still in the middle-skill category. However, some economists assert that demand for middle-skill jobs will shrink dramatically; the authors conclude that demand for such jobs will remain quite robust and are poised to grow as well as high-skill jobs. For example, the BLS projects that nearly half of all job openings between 2004 and 2014 will be in middle-skill occupations, such as construction, health care, computer use, and transportation. Another one-third will be in high-skill occupations, and about 22 percent in service occupations.

The authors provide evidence from various states and industries that illustrate the current demand for a middle-skill workforce, one whose workers have some postsecondary vocational training. The authors suggest that growth in the supply of workers with these middle level skills will likely shrink as baby boomers retire and immigrants fill the bottom and top jobs more easily than the middle. Thus, education and training programs that help less-educated workers gain these skills remain a worthwhile investment. "While further aid for those enrolling in four-year college programs is clearly critical, we must also provide other pathways to labor market success for those who cannot enroll in or complete such degrees. Labor market opportunities will clearly be available to such individuals, and proven education and training paths exist for both the current and future workforce. It is time to invest more heavily in appropriate skill development for all of our nation’s current and future workers, at all points in the labor market."

What the experts say
Read the conclusion first to better appreciate the value of the document to educators with an interest in workforce education and training. The entire document provides great defense for a focus on occupational/certificate training and determining priorities. It is also helpful to read page 8 first for a better understanding of "middle skill" jobs.

Through analyses of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the resource makes the case for the importance of focusing on '"middle skill jobs" that require some postsecondary education. They point out that the demand for middle-skill jobs will increase as baby boomers retire; because of this shortage, some will provide substantial wage increases for trained workers. The resource is very readable-text structures and graphic organizers effectively illustrate the data.

Methods the resource used to collect and analyze the data for the research:

The authors review and analyze Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data and evidence on how the demand for workers with different levels of education and training will evolve over the next decade and beyond.