Harper: Demand Growing For High-Skill Workers

Oct 15, 2016

In this week’s Economic Report, Dr. Rick Harper discusses a new Pew Research Center that looks at the state of American jobs. He also talked about the ITEN Wired summit, an annual networking and educational conference for tech and knowledge-based industries.

The study, which spans 1980-2015, finds that jobs that require higher levels of skill are growing faster than those that require fewer skills.

“If you look at 1980, about half of jobs required average to above-average skill sets. That was 49 million back in 1980,” Harper said. “At the same time, 50 million jobs, about the same, required below-average education or training.”

The number of jobs requiring more education grew 68 percent over the period surveyed to 83 million, Harper said. Jobs that required below-average education or training only grew by 31 percent.

“That huge difference in growth rates has big implications for wage rates. And it’s interesting in the Pew survey they pinpoint this change in job skills as one of the key reasons that some of the gender gap in wages is being erased,” Harper said.

Credit Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO

The study also looked at greatest employment growth by industry, classification and occupation, as well as by the skills required, such as social, analytical, manual physical, etc.

“They found there was 83 percent job growth in occupations that require social skills. There were jobs that involved interpersonal communication, management skills and were mostly in education and health care. Jobs that required analytical skills grew at slightly less that pace at 77 percent,” Harper said. “Staying relatively flat were jobs that required primarily physical and manual skills – think of labor jobs falling in those classifications.”

These growth numbers offer an explanation of the closing gender wage gap, Harper said.

“In 1980, women made on average 65 percent of what men made,” Harper said. “However, by 2015, that gap had narrowed from 65 percent to 84 percent. And if you look at young people in the workforce, particularly going into the areas that require social and analytical skills and realize that today about 60 percent of students enrolled in universities are young women and they are graduating with those social and analytical skills. Not surprisingly, women aged 25-34 are now making 93 percent the wage men make.”

The ITEN Wired summit took place Oct. 12-14 at the Hilton Pensacola Beach. On Wednesday, the event featured a job fair with 500 positions being advertised.

“Interestingly, 90 percent of those (jobs) required certificates as opposed to university degrees,” Harper said. “County Commissioner (Doug) Underhill has been vigorously pushing for additional investment in the tech sector, and that’s a lot of jobs that are available.”

The conference presented keynote speakers and four concurrent programming sessions on Thursday and Friday.

“They looked at issues such as cybersecurity, intellectual property protection, drones, cloud computing and those sorts of things,” Harper said. “I think one of the most interesting things on Friday is a discussion of women in tech, featuring Eman El-Sheikh, director of the UWF cybersecurity center and Michelle Horton from the UWF Innovation Institute.”

The event’s closing keynote speaker is Kim Wilmes, the executive director of Florida’s Great Northwest.

Florida’s Great Northwest is working with the Haas Center at the University of West Florida on a regional economic transformation plan.

“It’s a great conference,” Harper said. “It gets bigger and better every year.”
Dr. Rick Harper serves as associate vice president for research and economic opportunity at the University of West Florida and oversees the University’s Center for Research and Economic Opportunity. He can be reached at rharper@uwf.com. CREO staff writer Mike Ensley contributed to this report. He can be reached at kensley@uwf.edu.

This article is part of a collaboration between WUWF and the UWF Center for Research and Economic Opportunity.