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YOU DECIDE: Where will the jobs be?

July 27, 2007

MEDIA CONTACT: Dr. Mike Walden, 919.515.4671 or

Dr. Mike Walden
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Of all the factors and components of our economy, the one that probably matters most to more people is jobs: how many, what kind, what they pay.

After all, without jobs, most of us couldn't live, or at least live very well. Working on the job is also where most of us spend the greatest number of our waking hours. So the economy's health can frequently be summarized in one word: jobs.

There is always a great deal of change in the job market, with existing jobs destroyed and new jobs created, and today is certainly no exception. Yet the types and distribution of jobs rarely remain stable.

It's well known that manufacturing jobs have been shrinking in North Carolina, and new job growth has been in professional and service fields. There's much debate within the economics profession as to whether today's job churning is greater than in the past. Perhaps not surprisingly, some studies say "yes," others "no!"

But let's get down to some very practical job information.

In North Carolina, what kinds of jobs will be created, what fields will they be in and what will they pay? Plus, will North Carolina have the right kind of trained individuals for these jobs?

These are important but very complicated questions. Fortunately, a lot of brainpower was recently put to the task of providing some answers, and the results are in an impressive report called the State of the North Carolina Workforce: An Assessment of the State's Labor Force Demand and Supply, 2007-2017. You can download the report from the Web for the details, but let me provide a service by hitting the high points and lending some interpretation.

Jobs will be added in North Carolina over the next decade at the rate of about 65,000 per year, the report says. As in the past, these jobs will be in all kinds of fields, requiring many different levels of skills and training. But there are expected to be some clear patterns to the new jobs.

Among the positive findings is the forecast that the fastest-growing jobs will be those paying top salaries: jobs like physicians, scientists, accountants, engineers, financial analysts and computer specialists. These occupations are expected to increase at a rate 50 percent faster than all jobs. Of course, the "catch," if you can call it that, is that these jobs also require the highest levels of training. That is, a four-year college degree and, for some, an advanced college degree.

What if you want to go to college, but not for four years? What if your plan is to get a two-year technical degree from one of North Carolina's fine community colleges? Will a job be waiting for you when you're done?

Here again, the news is good.

Occupations like nurses, dental hygienists, medical technicians, auto mechanics and paralegals are all expected to grow fast. While salaries are generally not what would be earned with a four-year degree, 75 percent of these jobs now pay at or above the average salary for all employment.

However, there's also some bad news in the jobs report.

What if high school is all the education an individual can get through? While a generation or two ago that may have been enough to get a job, and perhaps even one with decent pay, in the future relatively fewer of those jobs will be available. Positions requiring only high school training are expected to grow at a rate only half that of all jobs and about one-third that of jobs requiring college.

So what will happen to high school graduates who can't find a job that uses their skills? According to the job projections, they'll be lumped in with high school dropouts. Of course, this means their pay will also be that of someone with no high school degree.

In fact, the way to think of the job market of the future is as one where the top and bottom ends are growing, with the middle being hollowed-out. Both jobs needing a college education and jobs needing not even a high school degree will increase faster than jobs requiring a high school diploma. The "new middle" jobs will be those for two-year college graduates. This also means the capacities of our two- and four-year colleges and universities will have to expand.

This ratcheting-up of educational requirements shouldn't be surprising. Education drives the new economy.

You decide if -- individually and collectively -- we'll be ready.

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Dr. Mike Walden is a William Neal Reynolds Professor and North Carolina Cooperative Extension economist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics of N.C. State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He teaches and writes on personal finance, economic outlook and public policy. The Department of Communication Services provides his You Decide column every two weeks. Earlier You Decide columns are at

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Posted by Dave at July 27, 2007 01:59 PM