December 9 2011

Role Reversal: Jobs Looking For People

Charlotte Hays

 While many Americans are jobless this holiday season, two recent stories have noted a trend: jobs looking for people.

Joel Kotkin writes in City Journal about blue collar jobs going begging. Kotkin reports a “remarkable resurgence in American manufacturing” as the source of these jobs, which have average yearly earnings of $73,000.

An experienced machinist at  Ariel Corporation, for example, earns over $75,000, which would very likely lead to homeownership in an area where a nice single-family house goes for less than $150,000.

The second story, from Fox News, is headlined “Unprecedented Boom Has Jobs Looking for People in North Dakota.” The North Dakota boom is the result of the Bakkan Formation, a source of oil from rocks.

The Fox story tells a heartening tale:

The result (of having the Bakkan Formation) is money and people pouring into a mostly rural state with an economy historically based on agriculture. Before the boom the population of North Dakota actually declined in every census since 1939. In just the last five years the population climbed back to its 1939 level, and the people just keep coming.

Just last week Thomas Jordan of Georgia arrived in the little town of Stanley in Mountrail County after a friend of his told him there were plenty of high paying jobs to be had.

"Did a few inquiries with the recruiters and me and my brother both were hired and here we are. It's everything they said it was and I absolutely love it," he said. 

There are two very important takeaways from these stories—the first is that energy-related endeavors such as the one in North Dakota can provide a multitude of jobs, if not overregulated, and the second is that we must do some new thinking on the value of a college degree.

On the first matter, I hope the Obama administration will have a “eureka!” moment and announce approval of the Keystone XL pipeline in time to cheer those who would receive one of the 120,000 jobs it would create in time for the holidays. (A gal can dream, can’t she?)

On the second matter, Kotkin writes:  

The shortage of industrial skills points to a wide gap between the American education system and the demands of the world economy. For decades, Americans have been told that the future lies in high-end services, such as law, and “creative” professions, such as software-writing and systems design. This has led many pundits to think that the only real way to improve opportunities for the country’s middle class is to increase its access to higher education.

That attitude is a relic of the post–World War II era, a time when a college education almost guaranteed you a good job. These days, the returns on higher education, particularly on higher education gained outside the elite schools, are declining, as they have been for about a decade. Earnings for holders of four-year degrees have actually dropped over the past decade, according to the left-of-center Economic Policy Institute, which also predicts that the pattern will persist for the foreseeable future. In 2008, more than one-third of college graduates worked at occupations such as waiting tables and manning cash registers, traditionally held by non–college graduates. Mid-career salaries for social work, graphic design, and art history majors are less than $60,000 annually.

The reason for the low rewards is that many of the skills learned in college are now in oversupply.

This is why every time I hear President Obama wanting to invest more money in making sure people go to college, I cringe.

I have nothing against college—been there myself. But it would more meaningful to have a high-paying job in a shop than to be a starving film school graduate, no?


 

 

 

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