May 2, 2014

Degrees are great, but you need marketable skills to get a job

By Jay Prag

[From the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin]

The recent rosy report by economist John Husing about economic growth in the Inland Empire is certainly welcome news: 46,000 jobs were created in 2013, more than doubling some of the predictions for last year. But here’s the sobering reality behind these better-than-expected job numbers: the demographics of our region probably limit the income growth that we can expect from these jobs.

When we think about the economic potential of the Inland Empire, we have to consider the labor force that exists here. About half of the adult population has no more than a high school diploma. That’s a lot of people who may be hardworking, but who might not qualify for high paying jobs. At least not yet.

I am a college professor, but I am the first to say that you do not need a college degree to be successful.

Indeed, we’re seeing an increasing number of college graduates who cannot find jobs. What you do need is a set of marketable skills.

Many good jobs do not require more than a high school diploma.

Plumbers, electricians and machinists are well paid. But all of these jobs require skills that take several years to acquire. The job training and apprenticeships required to get licensed in these areas are different from college but they involve similar tenacity and effort. And plumbers and electricians will always have jobs in the Inland Empire; you can’t outsource their jobs overseas.

One of the fastest growing areas of job growth in the Inland Empire is health care.

Some jobs in this area do not require more than a high school diploma; the typical annual pay for various types of aides and assistants hovers around $24,000 per year. Want to double that? Add a skill set and become a physical therapist or dental hygienist.

The other area of job growth in the Inland Empire is logistics.

But again, not all logistics jobs are the same. A generic warehouse worker or trucker driver earns about $12 per hour. Want to do better? You’ll need skills in information technology and supply chain management.

The message here is clear. We don’t need everyone in the Inland Empire to get a college degree to assure economic success. But we do need skilled workers and therefore we need much more job training and skill development. We also have to reinforce the message that successful people have to invest time and effort in achieving that success. No marketable skill comes quickly. Call it college or on-the-job training, you need to put in time and effort to be successful.

Finally, we need to change our political approach to helping working people succeed. The call for higher minimum wages might boost incomes for some low-skilled workers but it will also eliminate some jobs and limit the hours that people can work. More skills will raise wages more certainly. Giving people to believe that unskilled work is always worth some fixed amount is telling people a lie. You get what you pay for in life or from employer’s perspective, you pay for what you get.


Jay Prag is a finance professor at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito School of Management at Claremont Graduate University and serves as academic director for the school’s Executive Management Program.