College more important than ever, study shows

About seven out of 10 job openings in Colorado will require applicants to have a post-high school education by 2018, according to a recent report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

That puts the state second in the nation, behind Massachusetts, for percentage of job listings eight years from now that will require at least some college experience.

Grand Junction isn’t likely to be immune from the trend, Mesa State College Business Department head Morgan Bridge said, because degrees already are important in the local job market.

“I think businesses are starting to use degrees as a first cut,” she said. “The bachelor’s (degrees) become the cut point, and the master’s becomes the distinguishing factor.”

College degrees show an employer more than just which subjects a person took classes in, said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. How quickly a person earned the degree can show they have determination, she said, and going through college can demonstrate a person has discipline and communication skills.

“There’s a lot of different elements (employers look at) in addition to an advanced degree, but still advanced degrees are almost where high school degrees were 50 years ago,” Schwenke said.

A degree may not look so important when perusing local job postings. Just 35 of the 150 jobs listed Wednesday at the Mesa County Workforce Center required postsecondary education.

Granted, some jobs are posted elsewhere because employers are conducting a national search for candidates, while others are filled through local referrals.

But, Bridge said, jobs that require degrees may not be easier to find just because people with degrees may have retained their positions better during the past few years.

“During a recession, when businesses have to lay off people, they’re going to keep their best, and those are the ones with skill sets and knowledge. Again, that degree helps sort out some of those best people,” Bridge said.

Degrees may help, but they may not be enough to impress some employers, Mesa County Workforce Center Supervisor Gilbert Lujan said. A clean drug test was about all a person needed to get an entry-level job in Grand Junction a few years ago, according to Lujan. But as the unemployment rate has increased, so have expectations from employers.

“Now employers want more experience,” Lujan said.

Lujan said health care jobs have remained relatively steady during the recession, and many of those positions require degrees.

But manufacturing, energy and construction jobs, which began to plummet in fall 2008 and often rely more on experience than higher education, at least at the entry level, are starting to come back.

LOTS OF JOBS WITHOUT DEGREES,

BUT FEWER EVERY YEAR

Although the Georgetown report predicts more jobs overall will require post-high-school education by 2018, the second and third most plentiful occupations, are projected to be in the blue collar and food and personal service industries.

More than half of those jobs won’t demand more than a high school diploma, if that.

Food and personal service and blue collar jobs are expected to offer 17.9 million job openings in 2018, more than the next five most popular industries will offer combined at 14.8 million.

Each of those industries — management and professional jobs; education; science, technology and engineering; health care; and community services and arts — will require 88 percent or more of their applicants to have at least some college education.

The report predicts the top job field for both employment and openings in 2018 will be sales and office support, with 12.7 million job openings and nearly 45 million filled positions. Sixty-five percent of those applicants and employees are predicted to have some college or a post-secondary degree.

Getting a job without a degree may not be impossible in the future, but the report shows it may gradually get harder.

Jobs in natural resources and manufacturing are expected to recede 2 percent and 4 percent, respectively, between 2008 and 2018, according to the report. Jobs in natural resources are projected to require 32 percent of workers to have postsecondary education, and 54 percent of manufacturing jobs will require education beyond high school.

Meanwhile, the three fastest-growing industries — health care, private-education services, and professional and businesses services — will require 75 percent to 87 percent of employees to have some postsecondary experience, and 58 percent to 76 percent of employees in those fields will need a postsecondary degree.

SHIFT IN LOCAL EDUCATION

Mesa State College has added several programs at the college and at the Western Colorado Community College campus in recent years. Some of the newest arrivals include the construction-management program, the mechanical-engineering partnership with the University of Colorado, and a doctoral program and a master’s program for nurses.

The demands of local businesses had something to do with the creation of each one of them. The college and people in the business community have an ongoing conversation about what degrees are needed to fill jobs on the Western Slope, according to Mesa State spokeswoman Dana Nunn.

“Every time we create a major, we consider if there’s a demand. Are we creating an employable graduate?” she said.

While the college has expanded its roster of four-year degrees, it hasn’t left out certificate and two-year programs, which also received a boost. According to the Georgetown study, non-bachelor degrees are nothing to be sniffed at.

In fact, 43 percent of license and certificate holders earn more than an associate-degree holder, and 27 percent of license and certificate holders earn more than a person with a bachelor’s degree. Another 31 percent of associate-degree programs earn more than certain bachelor’s degrees.

The Grand Junction Economic Partnership works to attract businesses to Grand Junction that require various skill sets. To get the best-paying jobs, partnership President and CEO Ann Driggers said the organization looks to companies that require an associate degree or higher from employees.

The economic partnership also uses degrees to attract more jobs for degree holders to the area. It uses Grand Junction and Colorado’s percentages of residents with degrees to show clients they will be able to find qualified workers here. Both percentages were higher than the national average in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Colorado is one of the most educated states in the country. It’s something we utilize to present the state in a good light,” Driggers said.


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