This was originally published on HRDive.com.
(March 12, 2019) — The term may not be overly familiar, but middle-skill workers are a huge segment of the working economy. These employees have some college or credentials, but haven't hit the four-year degree mark — and are a key source of potential talent.
But as the economy shifts, middle-skill workers are usually the ones left in the lurch. What can employers do to ensure that a giant talent pool doesn't dry up?
"We tend to think of occupations as a grouping of jobs that have some dimensions," said Frank Britt, CEO at Penn Foster. "From an education perspective, middle-skill jobs are beyond high school but not a four-year degree." This labeling is broad, however, and can include medical professionals, machine operators, retail workers and skilled tradespeople.
Stephen Kosslyn, president and CEO at Foundry College, told HR Dive that there are over 50 categories of such jobs listed by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics — from running hotels, doctor's offices or IT services to managing a supply chain for a large business. "Middle-skills jobs account for 54% of the U.S. labor market," he said in an email, "but only 43% of the country's workers are prepared for such jobs."
This category is growing, as employers require a wide range of non-manual skilled roles. "But today this category of worker is experiencing massive skill shortages in areas such as IT, Data, and Digital," Niall McKinney, global president of Avado, said in an email, "particularly as automation elevates the roles of human employees beyond repeatable linear tasks and into more creative evaluative decisions."
But middle-skill jobs are evolving to the point where the distinction may no longer be accurate, according to Koreen Pagano, VP of corporate product management at D2L — especially in a world where "continuous and online learning are a fact of life in most jobs." Citing a Deloitte study that shows the half-life of a learned skill is just five years, Pagano noted in an email that "all employees and their employers need to be in the business of skilling-up continuously if they want to remain relevant." And that new reality makes the very definition of "middle skill" a bit murky.
Companies are rethinking the employee value proposition of development overall, Britt said. Historically, education benefits have been in the form of tuition reimbursement, and were largely reserved for the top of the food chain. But today's worker aspires to advance, and offering training can be a key way to enable that. "Business is beginning to embrace the idea that middle skills deserve the same opportunities," Britt said. "In addition to their social responsibility, it's economically rational: The more skills these workers have, the better they serve the company and themselves."
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