Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog

Middle-skill jobs are called middle-skill for a reason. They are often considered the midpoint along a career pathway that starts with an entry-level job, moves into a middle-skill job requiring more education and could move to an even higher level job requiring even more education, training, and experience but also paying a higher wage. But how does a worker starting at the entry-level move into middle skill?

This blog post is the third in a three-part series about middle-skills jobs. The first blog introduced the idea of middle-skill jobs and noted their growing presence in the job market, the follow-up blog emphasized in-demand middle-skill jobs and the skills necessary for success. The following concludes the middle-skill series.

Middle-skill jobs are the midpoint on a career pathways for many workers but also are sustainable middle-class jobs in their own right. Before diving into career pathways to middle-skill jobs, here are the facts for review:

  • 37 percent of job growth in the coming five years will be in middle-skill jobs. These jobs are displacing “high-school diploma only” jobs by the thousands in Southeast Michigan.
  • There will be negative growth in jobs that do not require any post-secondary training. Jobs for workers with a high school education or less are disappearing. In order to find a job, some level of post-secondary training in an in-demand field is necessary.
  • Each $1 per hour wage increase raises an individual’s annual salary by $1,200 (assuming a 40-hour week). This means that going from a $10 per hour job to a $15 per hour middle-skill job will move a worker’s annual wages from $20,800 to $31,200. Moving to $20 per hour will increase wages to $41,600 annually.

While it is true that the fastest growing middle-skill jobs are in health care fields, as detailed in the second part of this series, there are plenty of other rapidly growing, in-demand middle-skill jobs in Southeast Michigan.

The below data compares 2013 and 2014 occupational demand for the top 15 middle-skill jobs with the highest rate of job posting and growth, relative to the number of 2013 graduates with certificates and degrees that align with these jobs.

Description 2013 Job Postings 2013 Completions 2014 Job Postings
Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers 6,598 80 10,429
Computer User Support Specialists 3,789 1,350 3,535
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians 1,542 554 1,643
Web Developers 2,027 2,318 1,631
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technicians 1,282 259 1,408
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses 1,006 707 1,148
Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians 51 423 727
Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers, Except Line Installers 644 0 685
Paralegals and Legal Assistants 743 340 659
Physical Therapist Assistants 638 349 558
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers 391 680 447
Occupational Therapy Assistants 569 282 410
Dental Assistants 419 605 405
Life, Physical, and Social Science Technicians, All Other 427 72 395
Radiologic Technologists 245 381 343

Employer demand (as defined by postings) is a combination of turnover-related postings due to retirements and other separations as well as new jobs to be filled. Depending on the job, graduates in 2013 may or may not have been sufficient to meet employer demand that year. For some occupations, 2013 graduates outpaced employer demand, but for others there were not nearly enough new graduates to meet employer needs. As a result, postings remained high or grew from 2013 to 2014.

For example, demand for computer user support specialists in Southeast Michigan was at 3,789 postings in 2013. That same year 1,350 individuals (less than half the posting demand) completed certificates/degrees that would allow them to enter this line of work. In 2014 postings remained high at 3,535, signaling the more trained workers are needed to fill this growing occupation.

Generally speaking, there is substantial unmet demand for trained workers to fill growing middle-skill positions. For workers in entry-level retail and hospitality jobs, or for job seekers looking for a leg up into a more lucrative career, training for a middle-skill occupation might be a ticket to family-sustaining wages.

The top 15 in-demand middle-skill jobs of 2014 are shown in the table below with detail on the typical entry-level education needed, 2014 job postings, and the median hourly earnings. Seven of the top jobs require post-secondary training without a degree. This is great news for job seekers that may not be able to commit the time and money to earning an associate’s degree. Many of in-demand middle skills jobs pay below $15 per hour at entry-level but have the potential to pay more with experience and related education and training.

This blog post was prepared with research and content from Colby Spencer-Cesaro, director for research, Workforce Intelligence Network.

Description 2014 Job Postings Entry-Level Hourly Earnings Median Hourly Earnings Typical Entry Level Education
Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers 10,429 $12.34 $18.50 Postsecondary non-degree award
Computer User Support Specialists 3,535 $12.40 $20.54 Some college, no degree
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians 1,643 $11.90 $17.70 Postsecondary non-degree award
Web Developers 1,631 $14.80 $27.66 Associate’s degree
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technicians 1,408 $12.16 $15.98 Associate’s degree
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses 1,148 $17.14 $22.22 Postsecondary non-degree award
Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians 727 $14.52 $23.19 Associate’s degree
Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers, Except Line Installers 685 $16.51 $25.75 Postsecondary non-degree award
Paralegals and Legal Assistants 659 $15.28 $23.62 Associate’s degree
Physical Therapist Assistants 558 $12.56 $20.25 Associate’s degree
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers 447 $14.34 $22.61 Postsecondary non-degree award
Occupational Therapy Assistants 410 $13.92 $20.51 Associate’s degree
Dental Assistants 405 $11.60 $16.38 Postsecondary non-degree award
Life, Physical, and Social Science Technicians, All Other 395 $9.19 $15.66 Associate’s degree
Radiologic Technologists 343 $18.40 $25.67 Associate’s degree
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