If you’re looking for work and are worried about a lack of a bachelor’s degree or higher education, keep calm and keep looking.
Local job market analysts want you to know that plenty of decent jobs are out there, and the number will grow as more people age out of the workforce.
In Pierce County, according to local estimates, nearly a quarter of the skilled-job workforce is likely to retire over the next decade.
WorkForce Central, which works to increase access to services for local job seekers, workers and businesses, has followed up its report from January on county workforce data, trends and realities with a new report: Skilled Jobs in Pierce County: Gaps and Opportunities.
Skilled jobs are defined in the report as “middle skill” work requiring less than a four-year degree but some level of specialized training or education beyond a high school degree.
Examples: truck drivers, registered nurses, welders.
WorkForce Central’s new analysis emphasizes the “retirement cliff” every industry faces. It notes that workers and companies need to “ plan ahead for a pipeline of skilled workers ready to hire when retirement vacancies occur, in addition to increased demand due to natural economic growth.”
According to the report, skilled jobs tend to pay well above minimum wage to start and can reach six figures for established candidates in certain fields.
And, you don’t necessarily need a four-year degree for these jobs, which is good news for those who don’t see university life in the cards for them.
“College is not always attainable, or it might not even match someone’s interest,” said Christian Caple, communications director for WorkForce Central.
“We’re trying to change the conversation around that. There are a lot of really rewarding jobs that pay really good wages — family wages — that you don’t need a four-year degree to get into.”
Going beyond a high school diploma with training, certification or other post-secondary education is essential for these workers to stay viable and improve their earnings.
According to the WorkForce Central report:
▪ By 2021, nearly 9,500 new skilled jobs will be created here, 37 percent of the total new jobs in the area.
▪ Worker shortages are anticipated in positions such as general office clerks, truck drivers, teaching assistants, secretaries and administrative assistants and customer-service representatives.
▪ Some sectors, such as construction, may be under-utilizing online hiring tools to reach job seekers, which could be compounding the perceived worker shortage in that sector.
The gaps in our local market also aren’t just about lack of mismatched skills with open positions.
With jobs out there, people need to focus on things that will help them be better candidates.
That includes intangible attributes often described as “soft skills,” something many employers say is also in short supply.
The ability to work with others is a critical one.
According to the report, skilled workers often come ill-prepared for the workplace with a lack of communication skills, along with a lack of understanding workplace etiquette and time management.
Businesses can help themselves by adding work-readiness features in training programs and encouraging younger workers to gain customer experience in retail or hospitality work, for instance, to hone these skills, according to the report.
“Soft skills are taking front and center in our curriculum development,” said Mary Jane Oberhofer, program chair for Business and Logistics at Tacoma Community College.
“For example, in our Introduction to Business course, we have built the content around the skills needed for successful teamwork. I consider the class a team-skills-building class taught in the context of business. This is a unique approach that I believe will give our students the advantage when they are job seeking.”
This soft-skill gap has been in evidence for years and not just among middle-skill level workers.
A 2016 study by PayScale.com offered even more data on this in a review of what managers saw recent college graduates lacking. Critical thinking/problem solving was listed as the top soft skill most lacking in that survey.
Writing proficiency was the top hard skill most lacking among graduates, based on the same survey.
WOMEN AND PAY
The WorkSource report makes special note of the challenges women confront in the workforce.
Women across the board historically have faced specific economic challenges, contributing to, among other things, their lack of buying power in real estate.
Average starting wage for women in skilled jobs is 49 cents per hour less than men, amounting to a disparity of more than $1,000 each year or $30,000 over the span of a 30-year career, according to the report.
“To get women into skilled jobs that require more extensive job training and earn higher wages, the region must address barriers that prevent women from completing job training programs,” the report states.
That message seems to have taken hold locally with at least some of the next generation of workers.
Katrina Tavita, 17, is taking part in Goodwill’s free YouthBuild Tacoma program.
Under the program, Goodwill, Tacoma-Pierce County Habitat for Humanity and funding partner the U.S. Department of Labor work with low-income people ages 18-24. Participants learn how to build or rehabilitate quality homes for low-income families while having the chance to earn their GEDs and receive additional support in post-secondary education, college prep and leadership development.
“Throughout my freshman and sophomore year of high school, I struggled academically,” Tavita told The News Tribune via email. “Not because I didn’t understand the curriculum but because I didn’t feel the need or motivation to attend my classes.”
Each participant’s individual YouthBuild education program is valued at more than $17,000, according to Goodwill, illustrating one way that assistance can bolster early career choices.
Financial and/or childcare hurdles keep many women from pursuing other goals, according to WorkForce Central’s report:
▪ Women are significantly less likely than men to complete apprenticeships or long-term training. In one example, the report stated that just 3 percent of middle-skill construction jobs were filled by women.
▪ Women are more likely to be employed in skilled jobs that require only short-term or no specialized training, but completed long-term training programs at far higher numbers when financial and childcare assistance was provided.
Tavita discovered YouthBuild through her older sister, also in the program. Eventually, Tavita would like to use her construction skills to pay for college and possibly go into health care or become a veterinarian.
“Since I’ve joined I have seen myself progress, no more skipping class and leaving early. I’m finally making academic progress that I am proud of,” she said.
Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell
YouthBuild Tacoma is a full-time 30 week pre-apprenticeship program that provides construction training, GED classes, job readiness skills, leadership development and support services, with 30 spots available in the program starting in July.
- What’s available: core curriculum certification (union-recognized credential); GED; certifications as a forklift operator or flagger as well as OSHA and first-aid certifications
- Location: Goodwill Milgard Work Opportunity Center, 714 S. 27th St., in Tacoma.
- More information: Call 253-573-6819 or email Ronisha Hamilton at Goodwill: email@example.com or visit Goodwill’s website link: www.goodwillwa.org/training/programs/construction/ or the job training-youth tab under www.goodwillwa.org
Sampling of skilled jobs, pay
Here are some jobs that might not immediately come to mind when you are thinking of a career track not involving a four-year degree. Wages listed are for Pierce County.
- Carpenters: $51,300 median wage, minimum education requirement of a high-school diploma or equivalent, and apprenticeship/on-the-job training
- Brickmasons and blockmasons: $68,500 median wage, minimum education requirement of a high-school diploma or equivalent, and apprenticeship/on-the-job training
- Electricians: $60,909 median wage, minimum education requirement of a high-school diploma or equivalent, and apprenticeship/on-the-job training
- Structural iron and steel workers: $82,900 median wage, minimum education requirement of a high-school diploma or equivalent, plus apprenticeship/on-the-job training
- Mechanical drafters: $71,000 median wage, minimum education requirement of associate degree or post-secondary certificate
- Computer-controlled machine tool operators (metal and plastic): $59,800 median wage, minimum education requirement of a high-school diploma or equivalent — though many employers require some kind of post-secondary certificate or vocational training. Many machinists train through apprenticeship.
- Aircraft structure, surfaces rigging and systems assemblers: $55,900 median wage, minimum education requirement of a high-school diploma or equivalent, plus on-the-job training in some cases.
TRANSPORTATION, WAREHOUSING AND LOGISTICS
- Millwrights: $67,260 median wage, minimum education of an associate degree or apprenticeship.
Source: WorkForce Central