Higher Education Needed for Most Future Jobs: SHRM Study

By Bill Leonard Oct 10, 2012
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The importance of higher education and technical training for the job skills that employers need has increased considerably in the past 10 years and will only continue to increase, according to a report released Oct. 3, 2012, by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Achieve, a nonprofit education advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

“Today’s tough job market means that many individuals currently hold jobs for which they have educational qualifications beyond those required for their position,” said Jennifer Schramm, GPHR, manager of workplace trends and forecasting for SHRM. “But this may not be the case down the line—education requirements are climbing for jobs across the board.”

The report, Changing Employee Skills and Education Requirements, is based on the survey responses of 4,695 HR professionals from nine industries. The survey results indicated that more jobs in 2012 require specific technical specifications and a higher education level when compared to 10 years ago. In addition, the respondents reported that increases in staff size and employee diversity have been the biggest changes to their organization’s workforce since 2002.

When asked to look ahead to skills and qualifications that will be needed in the next three to five years, 60 percent of the respondents predicted that there will be a growth in jobs that require specific technical requirements, and one-half (50 percent) said that a higher level education will be required for most jobs.

“This survey reinforces the importance of having strong and responsive K-12 and postsecondary education systems that provide all students with the knowledge and skills that they need to succeed in their careers of choice,” said Sandy Boyd, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Achieve. “It’s clear that the world has changed, and employers are demanding more from their new employees and applicants than ever before.”

When asked what education levels will be needed for specific positions, future administrative and secretarial positions will require more education, with 21 percent reporting that these positions will require an associate’s degree, while 11 percent said that a post-secondary certificate would be needed for these jobs.

In the next three to five years, salaried, individual contributors and professionals will require at least a bachelor’s degree, according to 71 percent of the respondents, or at least an associate’s degree, said 12 percent of the participants. Nearly one-third of the respondents (31 percent) reported that skilled laborers, such as technicians, mechanics, and foreman will need to have a specific post-secondary certificate or specific training credentials in order to qualify for future jobs.

According to the survey results, the following industries will most likely have an increased demand for job candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree:

  • Health care (62 percent)
  • Manufacturing (58 percent)
  • Construction, mining, oil and gas (57 percent)
  • Finance (57 percent)
  • High-tech (56 percent)
To meet the growing demand, the survey respondents reported that job-specific training is the most important factor for improving the needed job skills of workers, especially for lower-skilled labor. In addition, a majority of the respondents viewed professional development and training programs for salaried individual contributors and managers as essential to improving the performance of their organizations.

Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM.
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