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May 2019
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TD Magazine

Meeting in the Middle

Growth in middle-skill jobs may offer new opportunities for low-skilled workers.

It's no secret that changes in technology are affecting job availability in the workforce. Automation has already begun replacing some job tasks, and low-skilled jobs (those requiring a high school diploma or less) are expected to be especially affected. The Association for Talent Development's research report The Future of Work: Technology, Predictions, and Preparing the Workforce found that low-skilled workers are predicted to be the group most strongly affected by the future of work.

Despite this, however, the outlook for low-skilled workers is promising. According to the Southern Regional Education Board report Unprepared and Unaware: Upskilling the Workforce for a Decade of Uncertainty, growing vacancies in middle-skill jobs will pose a new opportunity for low- and middle-skilled workers alike. Middle-skill jobs, which require more than a high school education but less than a bachelor's degree, are growing at such a rate that there are not enough middle-skilled workers to fill them. As of 2016, middle-skill jobs comprised 54 percent of the U.S. labor market—but just 44 percent of working-age adults were trained to a middle-skill level.

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This middle-skills gap indicates that there are many jobs available to low-skilled workers if they get the training they need. Middle-skill service jobs in particular—such as healthcare, information technology, and white-collar business services—account for more than three-quarters of middle-skill job growth.

Given this shortage of insufficiently trained workers, organizations may need to invest more in training their employees to fill this gap. Unprepared and Unaware notes that workers with middle-skill jobs typically have associate degrees, vocational certificates, or significant on-the-job training.

For this reason, reskilling—training that helps individuals to gain new knowledge or skills and enables them to perform new jobs or enter new professions—will be crucial in the coming years. As organizational needs and job roles continue to shift and evolve, reskilling programs can provide talent development with a way to both retain low-skilled workers and help them transition into new roles.

About the Author

Shauna Robinson is a research analyst at the Association for Talent Development (ATD), where she prepares surveys, analyzes data, and writes research reports and short case studies. Her previous positions at ATD include human capital specialist and communities of practice coordinator.

Prior to working for ATD, Shauna was a senior editorial assistant at Wiley in San Francisco, California. Shauna received a bachelor’s degree in English from UC Berkeley, and she is currently attending the University of Connecticut remotely to obtain a master's degree in survey research.

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