The U.S. workforce of the future must be highly educated and skilled to meet the growing demands of a data-driven society.
Economists and labor force experts argue that workers need to be prepared to meet increasingly complex technological challenges in a more competitive global environment.
“Broadly speaking, the nation’s comparative advantage globally is in products and services that embody a highly educated and skilled workforce,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics.
Services industries have a broad jobs reach from engineers, economists and scientists to those trained in equally critical occupations, such as welding and electrical work, and “all will be very much a major force in job creation and hiring,” he said.
“Thus, for our economy to succeed, we need the best and the brightest,” he said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs in healthcare, personal care and social assistance, along with construction, grow at the fastest rate during this decade and will represent more than half of the 20.5 million new jobs that are expected to be created by 2020.
That is a 14.3 percent increase in job creation over the decade.
Through 2020, 54.8 million total job openings are expected.
But while that growth will lead to many openings, more than half — 61.6 percent — will come from the need to replace workers who retire or permanently leave a job.
As far as education goes, for jobs where a master’s degree is typically needed, employment is expected to grow by 21.7 percent through the remainder of the decade, faster than any other education category.
Those with a high school education will see the slowest jobs growth, yet that category will create the most new jobs by the end of the decade because the bulk of jobs typically require a high school education.
All told, about 7.6 million jobs will require only a high school diploma or equivalent, in retail, offices and as customer service representatives, all a part of the services sector.
Conversely, jobs growth for workers with a master’s degree through the decade is only about 431,000.
There will be 5.2 million more jobs for those with less than a high school education and 3.7 million more for workers with bachelor’s degrees.
In terms of typical on-the-job training, occupations that usually require apprenticeships are projected to grow the fastest (22.5 percent).
The labor force will also see changes in demographics down the road, too.
By 2020, the number of Hispanics in the labor force is projected to grow by 7.7 million, or 34 percent, and their share of the labor force is expected to increase to 18.6 percent in 2020 from 14.8 percent in 2010.
The labor force shares for Asians and blacks are projected to be 5.7 and 12 percent, respectively, up slightly from 4.7 and 11.6 percent in 2010.
Amid the expansion, there is growing concern about what the labor market holds in the future for the middle class.
Heidi Shierholz, chief economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said the needs for the workforce might not be changing very much, which does not bode well for middle-class workers.
Zandi said there are academic studies that predict the further hollowing out of the middle class because many jobs can be replaced by improvements in technology.
Meanwhile, most jobs, such as cleaning staff and waiting tables at a restaurant, can’t be replaced by a computer code and will stay around.
In response, the future labor market needs to see the creation of better business, education and government partnerships to help workers get the training and education they need.
Zandi said that using universities and community colleges as training facilities could convince government, from local to federal officials, to provide a kicker and “supercharge the effort to a great scale.”
“We have never been good at helping unemployed workers retool their skill sets,” Zandi said.
He argued that, right now, the labor force is getting “very little help from policymakers” and that will need to change to ensure the nation has a competitive workforce.
Still, he said, businesses need to remain the driving force in determining what skills are needed and how to ensure workers get the skills and education they need.
“We need to better educate and train our domestic workforce and attract the very best from the rest of the world.
To that end, economists and business groups are pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, which they say will steer and shape the economy into a brighter future.
Amid the need for better educated and skilled workers is the reality that the labor market will tighten sometime within the next decade, which could put a different set of demands and circumstances on employers and their potential employees.