2016 Industry Research & Trends: Developing America’s Frontline Workers

by Kevin Martin

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There is a mismatch between job openings and people looking for work: It is estimated that five million jobs in the U.S. are unfilled. At the same time, there are roughly 8.7 million Americans looking for work and 24 million frontline workers who might be able to fill these jobs if they were given the opportunity to develop additional skills.

Demand for middle skills is increasing: By 2017, an estimated 2.5 million new, middle-skill jobs (those that require post-high school education but not a four-year college degree) are expected to be added to the U.S. workforce, accounting for nearly 40% of all job growth. The challenge is making those opportunities known to the right people and providing training/reskilling opportunities to help people qualify for them. Further, between 2012 and 2022, about 20% of projected job openings are expected to be in occupations with annual earnings of over $30,000, but that require less than a bachelor’s degree.

Most adults with low skill levels are working: There are 36 million adults in the U.S. who score below level two on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) international literacy assessment—meaning they cannot compare and contrast information or integrate multiple pieces of information. Though some of these adults may be unemployed because of their skill deficiencies, two of every three—about 24 million in total—are working.

Most low-wage workers have low skill levels, but many do not: There are about 24 million low-wage workers in the U.S. whose earnings (less than about $28,000 a year) place them in the lowest 30% of earnings for all full-time workers. According to the OECD literacy assessment, there are 14.5 million workers who have low basic skills and make less than$30,000 a year, showing there is some overlap between the lower-skilled and low-wage groups.

Kevin Martin

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