Thursday, May 17, 2007

Education and Skill Categories

Free traders, privatizers and devoted deregulators everywhere know job losses in manufacturing make up bad news, which is why they forecast new investment and expansion into sectors with higher productivity and more jobs for the future. They talk vaguely of new high tech jobs, always careful to mention computers and computer technology. They warn these new jobs require technical knowledge or college degrees and so they advise, “Get some training.”

Holding out training and education as the path to better jobs shifts the responsibility for failure, or a menial job with low pay, on to the individual and away from business and government policy. Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Chairman, was very clever doing that. When he would testify on Capital Hill an inquiring committee member would ask why America has so many low paid jobs. He would answer people need to prepare themselves for today’s new high tech economy. Today’s jobs require high skills, he would say. In other words, people could have better jobs if they would take the initiative to get that training, which means Mr. Greenspan cannot be held to blame for those low paid jobs. Committee members would usually stop their questions following his “Get some training” answer. I cannot recall any time when anyone asked him to provide a count of these high tech jobs, or some data, to go with his optimistic answer. It is time to make a count.

Over the years the inquiring minds at the Bureau of Labor Statistics started to wonder what skills and what training go with what jobs? They decided it was an important topic because they assigned many of their staff to study skill levels for the more than 700 United States standard occupations. They interviewed employers and employees to find out what someone has to know and do to qualify for employment in each occupation. They went to colleges and universities to learn about the curriculum for degree training. They studied state regulations to know licensing or certification requirements.

Categorizing education and skills training for occupations is on going work, but the BLS skills taxonomy reflects the current education and training associated with data reported within its occupational categories. This taxonomy appears in the Table below. The first six BLS categories give the minimum of formal college degree education that is required for entry and work in an occupation.

List – BLS Educational Training and Skills Categories
1. First Professional Degree-Entry into a job in this skill category requires 2 to 4 years of degree study beyond a baccalaureate degree. Almost all professionals must pass state licensing exams or private board certification exams to enter practice. Physicians, veterinarians, dentists, lawyers, pharmacists are all examples. Ministers are generally included here although there is not ordinarily board or state certification.

2. Doctorate Degree-Entry into a job in this skill category requires a doctorate following completion of a baccalaureate degree as minimum education for entry. College teaching at four year colleges is an example. A doctorate is also required for many science and medical research positions. Many require licenses and board exams. Medical and biological researchers, physicists, and astronomers are other examples because employment is mostly in research and these require doctorates.

3. Master's Degree-Entry into a job in this skill category typically requires license, certification, credentials or registry in a specialized skill area that requires work beyond a BA degree, leading to a master's degree. Health care professions such as physical therapists, speech-language audiology or pathology, counseling are examples. Librarians are now also included.

4. Master's or Bachelor's degree combined with previous experience-Entry into a job in this skill category requires formal education, but these jobs are usually not accessible without experienced practice in the field at an entry job. Health Services managers usually have experience working in health care in addition to degrees and credentials. Some businesses now require work experience and an MBA before jobs are accessible for entry. Almost all of these jobs have manager in the SOC title.

5. Bachelor's Degree-Entry into a job in this skill category requires a BA or BS degree. In some cases a BA degree in any field is satisfactory to establish reading and computational skills necessary to begin a job. Other jobs need a BA in a particular major to establish skills, credentials or obtain a license.

6. Associate Degree-Entry into a job in this skill category usually requires some formal education such as an educational internship, or co-op program, but leading to an associate's degree. Some employers require graduation from an accredited two year community or junior college program in order to take required licensing exams. Health technician occupations are examples. Some skill types have professional associations with certification or accreditation to help establish skill levels for job entrants. Dental hygienists, licensed practical nursing are examples.

7. Post-secondary vocational training-Entry into a job in this skill category requires pre-employment skill training and often a license from a state agency. Barbers, hairstylists, office machine repairers, computer repair specialists and technicians are examples. Employers may provide some on-the-training but entrants must arrive with the skills and certification to do their job.

8. Work Experience in a Related Occupation-Entry into these jobs usually requires that applicants show a high level of skills. These skills can be acquired through degree training, but long term practice, and specialized talents acquired as part of a career in the field are necessary. It is a separate category because degrees and training do not assure entry into these occupations. First line supervisors, police detectives and investigators, adult education instructors are examples.

9. Long-term on the Job Training-Entry into a job in this skill category typically requires skills acquired from work experience that takes longer than one year. The additional skills needed for the job are taught on the job, through an apprenticeship or employer sponsored classroom instruction or training, and the skills required take a long time or a lot of effort to learn with training of over a year. Actors, athletes, dancers, electricians, carpenters and mechanics are examples. Entry into these jobs are not open to those leaving a degree program or skills training. Prior job relevant skills are necessary for advancement into these positions. For many of these positions a high school degree maybe sufficient but entry is not available to high school graduates. Entry skills are high school plus on the job skills and experience.

10. Moderate-term on the job Training-Entry into these jobs usually requires basic reading and language skills learned in high school or a GED program, but additional on-the-job training is usually necessary. Additional skills can be learned quickly, but 1 to 12 months can be needed to acquire additional skills. Medical assistants, dental assistants, social and human resource assistants are examples.

11. Short-term on the job Training-Entry into these jobs usually requires basic reading and language skills learned in high school or a GED program. Work that can be learned from written or verbal instructions, or carried out successfully after a demonstration are classified as high school skills. Additional skills can be learned quickly, typically a month or less of on-the-job experience or instruction. High school degree skills can also be thought of as general skills employment.

The term required has a broad use. In some occupations the degree is absolutely necessary and a candidate will not be considered without the required degree. These include occupations where licensing is required by the state or by a private association empowered by the state. Registered nurses must have at least an associate's degree from an approved nursing program to be able to take required state exams. Without this credential entry is blocked.

In other occupations, a college degree is not strictly required but the skills needed before entry are such that a degree is strongly preferred by employers and candidates without a degree are much less likely to be considered, much less employed. Categories emphasize the sources and length of training preferred by employers. Training might be post-secondary vocational, college, postgraduate or professional education. The duration of training could range from a week or two to many years.

Prior experience and on the job training are part of the skills taxonomy. Category four is work experience plus a bachelor's or higher degree, an MBA degree for example. Someone with an MBA in finance will probably be expected to have employment experience before being considered for a managerial position. The bachelor degree plus work experience skill category amounts to a managerial skill category. Add up all management jobs at all establishments across the whole economy, and be sure to include management analysts, business agents and managers of artists, performers and athletes, producers and directors of artists, performers and musicians, judges and magistrates and the total comes to 97 percent of jobs requiring a bachelor degree plus work experience in the skills taxonomy.

The people at BLS who study jobs and skills and maintain the skills taxonomy appear to have a general consensus that managers should have work experience before they become managers. They nearly agree that a BA degree is required. I say nearly because a few managerial types – lodging manager, gaming manager, food service manager – fall in skill category 8, which is work experience in related occupation. A BA degree is not considered necessary for management in these industries.

Categories eight and nine describe skills learned through long-term on-the-job training, or work experience in a similar or related occupation. These jobs do not require a degree beyond high school, but are generally not entry-level jobs. For example, a first line supervisor of retail sales workers, or a supervisor of construction workers will need experience in retail sales or construction to be eligible for a job as a supervisor. These jobs require long term on the job training, meaning more than 12 months of experience. Therefore, entry level skills are a high school degree plus skills learned in another job or lower level job.

Categories 10 and 11 are moderate term and short-term on-the-job training. Moderate term on the job training is classified as skills which take 1 to 12 months to learn on the job while short term on the job training is classified as skills which take up to 1 month, but might be less. Moderate term and short term on the job training skills can be classified as general workforce employment. Therefore, entry-level skills into these occupations are a high school degree.

In the government’s Standard Occupational Classifications professional employment is separate from managerial employment. A civil engineer does professional work in a professional career but a manager of civil engineers has managerial employment and not professional employment, at least if we use the terms and definitions applied at BLS.

Despite the official terminology, we have to expect civil engineers who are managers of civil engineers will think of themselves as professionals. Suppose we asked a civil engineer working as a manager of civil engineers, “What is your profession?” He or she would be likely to say they are engineers rather than managers. If we ask the same person, “What is your job?” they would be likely say they are managers of a department of civil engineers. Their profession is engineer; their job is manager.

Lots of managerial jobs are filled with people moving up from professional jobs. Not always and American does have career managers, but moving up from below is an important way to enter the management ranks. The more managers promoted from the professions, the more professional openings there will be for entry positions in the professions: engineering, architecture, law and so on. As graduates from America’s colleges enter the workforce they will want to find jobs using their degree skills. If all or most of those with professional skills and experience stay in their jobs until retirement it would be harder than it already is for new college graduates in the professions to start a career. Openings come sooner when older professionals move into management ranks.

Almost all of America’s jobs that use college degree skills are in the professions or management. If we total all of the jobs where a four year college degree or master’s, doctorate or professional degree are required in the BLS skills taxonomy, the total comes to 25.3 million, which is 19.4 percent of the May 2005 Occupational Employment Survey total of over 130 million jobs. If we subtract all the managerial jobs that require college degree skills so that we have non-managerial jobs needing college degrees the total is 20 million, which is 15.4 percent of the May 2005 Occupational Employment Survey total.

Suppose we add up jobs for a list of professions. Take a list with teachers, professors, lawyers, engineers, architects including landscape architects, doctors including physicians and surgeons, dentists, pharmacists, and optometrists. Lets not forget accountants and auditors jobs that need CPA’s and all the professional counseling and social work jobs that require master’s degrees. Add all the professional computer jobs that require BA or higher degree skills. These are software engineer and hardware engineer, database manager jobs and a few others. All of these together total 12.5 million jobs. The total is a count of jobs, not people. Lawyers working as managers or politicians, or retired are not counted in the total of lawyers, just lawyers working at jobs that require lawyer skills. Neither is it a count of all the people who can rightfully call themselves engineers or architects because they have an engineering or architect degree. It includes only engineering jobs that require the skills of an engineer or architect.

The teaching and education professions have the largest number of U.S. professional jobs requiring college degree training. Add just the professional staffs, and total college professors, primary and secondary public, private and parochial school teachers, nearly 390 thousand educational administrators, more than 200 thousand counselors and 90 thousand school librarians. The total comes to 6.2 million. No industry or profession has anything close to the number of professional jobs in education, but the 6.2 million is out of over 130 million jobs.

Get some training makes terrific advice for you, your brother and your uncle Dwight. At current rates of college enrollment, college degrees will pay. Just hope that not too many of the 20 million working in jobs with 90th percentile annual wages less than $30,000 get the same idea. It might not be good either if large numbers of the 16 million working as cashiers, security guards, fast food cooks, servers, waiters, waitresses, dishwashers, janitors, maids, landscapers, grounds keepers, child care workers, tellers, receptionists, and parking lot attendants decide to up grade their skills along with you. Get some training. Now you know.

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