The myth & reality of the present and future job market

In the January/February 1994 issue of Growing Without Schooling, Pat Farenga wrote an article titled “Schooling + Diploma = Jobs?”

Change the dates and a few of the names and you might mistake it for an article written yesterday.

“So the drum beats on for more and more schooling for more and more jobs.  ‘Without an educated workforce we can’t grow this economy or remain competitive’, the President told a Satellite Town Meeting audience.  Of course, education is meant to be synonymous with schooling in such statements…”

The President to whom Farenga was referring was Bill Clinton, but doesn’t the quote from the President sound familiar?   Here is a quote from President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union Address:

“If we want to win the future — if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas — then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.”

Slightly different delivery, basically the same message.

Farenga’s 1994 article goes on:

“The most disturbing thing about the schooling + diplomas = jobs equation is the assumption that these ‘high skill, high wage jobs of today exist in abundance.  Certainly some new fields, such as biotechnology, might require specialized skills and knowledge, though I strongly doubt that school is the only place where people can learn these things.  But we must remember that there will be, as there always is, a limited number of openings for these jobs. Like architects, English majors and engineers in the ’70’s, our children may spend time and money getting diplomas for school-defined jobs only to find that the market is glutted with graduates like themselves.”

At the time the GWS article was written, the projection for job growth fell heavily into the service sector.  Pat Farenga went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and discovered that those jobs projected to grow the most by 2005 included correction officials, firefighters, guards, police, chefs, food and beverage service workers, salespersons, clerks, cashiers, etc.

You get the picture.  All those kids rushing to get the high tech degrees?  Where did they wind up working?

But, you say – despite the similarities in rhetoric – that was in 1994.  Today things are different.  Today you need a 4 year degree to get a job.

So I did what Pat Farenga did.  I went to the Dept. of Labor website and pulled up their Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012 edition.   Two sections were of particular interest.   First, the “Most New Jobs” section, which shows you what occupations will add the most jobs between 2010-2020.    Of those 20 occupations, exactly 2 of them require college degrees and both of those are for teachers: postsecondary and elementary.  (Postsecondary is at postion 10 in growth, elementary teachers at position 15.)

The 18 other occupations creating the most new jobs all require associate’s degrees, high school degree/equivalency OR LESS.

Also of interest are the Fastest Growing Occupations.   Right!  Because THAT’S where we are going to see all the high tech jobs for which our kids need those degrees.


The high tech jobs are virtually non-existent here, and  the number one fastest growing occupation, that of  Personal Care Aid, requires less than a high school diploma at entry level.    Of the other top 19,  a paltry six require at least a 4 year degree.  Only two of those are in the top 10, with Biomedical Engineers (ok, kind of high tech) coming in at number 3 and Event Planners squeaking in at #10.   (Event planners?  Really? It takes a 4 year degree to plan events?)

That’s 30%.     30% of the fastest growing occupations require a 4 year degree.   Then why do 100% of our kids “need” a 4 year degree to “succeed”?   Sounds more like a set-up for debt & disappointment, in my book.

And what about the crossover between these two lists?  How many of the occupations providing the most new jobs are also among the fastest growing?

There are only two:  Personal Care Aids (#1 fastest growing, #4 providing most new jobs) and Home Health Aids (#2 fastest growing, #3 providing most new jobs) and both of them require less than a high school diploma/equivalency at entry level.

Does this mean there are no high tech jobs?   No, there are, but at least for the next 8 years (and stretching back for the last 20) they are not the occupations most needed in our economy.

See, we have been and are still being sold a bill of goods with no substance to back it up.  ALL children do not need to go into debt and get a 4 year degree.   In fact, most of them probably don’t.    So why do we insist on telling them they do?  Why make them miserable for their first 18 years, holding the threat of a failed life in front of them if they don’t go to college?   Why do we send them to college before they know what they want to do with their lives, watch them get a degree that does them little or no good and then moan about unemployment?

You know what is almost worse than being underqualified for a job?  Being overqualified.  Being passed over because you know too much.   An underqualified person can always learn what they need to know.  An overqualified person cannot give back their degree.  (I have personal experience in this regard.  When I entered the job market in New York I really, REALLY wanted this job as a helper/receptionist in a professional photographer’s studio in Chelsea.  They wouldn’t hire me because of my degree.  They said I would want too much money, even though I told them I knew what the pay was and had no problem with it.  Even though I would have been perfect for them.   I didn’t get the job.)

Some kids are passionate about careers as  doctors or lawyers or cpa’s or architects, and they should go to college in pursuit of their goals.

But for the majority?

I’m not saying that kids should resign themselves to working as a Personal Care Aid – unless that is what they want to do and then they should be the best Personal Care Aid they can be.    What I’m saying is that they should follow their interests and passions no matter where they lead.    There are so many ways to learn and gain the skills needed to pursue a chosen path.  Only a few of those lead unequivocally through the doors of a university.

Don’t listen to the rhetoric.  Don’t waste your time and please don’t waste your money.  Follow the path that motivates you, excites you and makes you happy.   That’s the path that will lead to success.


Quotes from Growing Without Schooling copyright 2013 by HoltGWS LLC are used with permission.


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