To Ease Worker Shortage, Officials Promote “Middle-Skill” Jobs

May 7, 2018
Originally published on May 10, 2018 12:10 pm

You often hear jobs described as high-skill or low-skill. But the jobs that Ohio employers have the most trouble filling fall somewhere in between.


[National Skills Coalition, 2017]

For that reason, state and local economic development officials are holding a series of free events in Northeast Ohio (part of what they've dubbed “In-Demand Jobs Week”) to raise public awareness of so-called “middle-skill jobs.” Those are jobs that may require special training, but not a necessarily a 4-year college degree. 

“Whenever I speak with business owners and leaders, they tell me that they have open jobs that they can’t fill,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, in a statement announcing the commencement of the series.

Middle-skill jobs account for 55 percent of Ohio’s labor market, but only 47 percent of the state’s workers are trained to the middle-skill level, according to the National Skills Coalition (NSC), a group that advocates for worker training. By contrast the number of workers available for high- and low-skilled jobs, is higher than the number of openings for such positions, according to NSC.


[National Skills Coalition, 2017]

Vinz Koller, a senior strategist with the think tank Social Policy Research Associates, says middle-skill positions are a hot commodity among employers, and in the next few years they are only likely to become even more in demand.

“The good news is there’s going to be a fair number of well-paying jobs,” Koller said. What’s more, he said, they will become increasingly important as more and more jobs become automated. 

“Automation happens more at the lower-skill level first,” he said, “so focusing on getting to those middle-skill level jobs is key.” However, he said, many young folks entering the workforce, or even adults switching careers, may not know how to get one of these gigs.

In other words, before employers can fill the skills gap, they must first fill the awareness gap. 

But Koller said awareness among jobseekers is just the start. To truly address the worker shortage, educators, legislators, and employers need to make it easier for workers to get trained without going into mounds of debt.

On that score, Koller said policymakers should invest more in worker training, as well as apprenticeship programs, not only in the building trades where they are common, but also in white collar professions.

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