Bridging the gap between open positions and qualified workers in the “middle skills” range may be the biggest employment challenge facing employers in the near future. Educators and hiring managers said that the need for certified workers in a variety of fields remains a priority for both initial training and continuing education.
“The question is: What can we as educators do to create credentials for people to get into the workplace,” said Deborah Bayer, dean of engineering, manufacturing and industrial technology at Oakland Community College. “When we do our data searches there are a lot of job postings for middle skills, and we need to start filling those gaps.”
As defined in a recent Workforce Intelligence Network report, middle-skill positions require some post-high school degree or certification but not necessarily a four-year degree, and pay more than $15 per hour. No job growth is expected for positions that only require a high school diploma, according to data gathered by Burning Glass Technologies, but more than a third of the 20,000 expected new jobs in the next five years will require middle skill experience or certification.
Bayer said that employers have stressed the need for skilled workers who continue to broaden their qualifications, and the school continuously reviews its curriculum to meet the needs.
“People are paying attention to ‘stackable credentials’ that are based on skills,” Bayer said. An employee with a mechanic’s license might, she said, work at one certification while adding other specialties through continuing education. “They may take a little longer to get where they want to be, but they have the skills for some pretty high-paying jobs. The same holds true for allied health fields.”
An anticipated shortage of qualified nurses is one of many challenges in health care: Among the top-posting middle-skill jobs last year in Southeast Michigan were nurses, medical and laboratory technicians and physical therapy assistants.
“There’s always a need for individuals in these roles,” said Linda Kruso, director of workforce planning at Beaumont Health Care.
The company has been re-assessing staff across the board since its merger earlier this year with Henry Ford Health Systems, and Kruso said the industry shift in the wake of the Affordable Care Act has created a greater than ever need for middle skill staff. Industry expectations are that more patient care will be provided by medical and nursing assistants, often through home care.
“Because of the direction that healthcare is going we’ll continue to see growth in these areas,” Kruso said. “We have a lot of nursing assistants working while in school, who have the opportunity to experience direct patient care. There’s a nice opportunity to grow from that role.”