By Chris Adams
When good jobs disappear, can workers find new ones to replace them?
That’s the big question for workers displaced as the U.S. economy has shifted away from manufacturing jobs during the past three decades into more service and technical ones. The trend has been acute since the Great Recession of the late 2000s, which saw the loss of more than 5 million manufacturing jobs, only a fraction of which have come back.
Meanwhile, jobs with a bachelor’s degree barely dipped during the recession and have grown rapidly since then; jobs for workers with some college or a two-year degree have recovered their modest losses.
Those numbers come from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and director Anthony Carnevale, who joined two other experts on jobs and job retraining in a National Press Foundation video.
Carnevale’s center tracks where in the country jobs exist that still allow a worker who doesn’t have a four-year college degree to get a good job with decent pay that will go up during a career. While those jobs are down, they still exist – about 20 percent of male workers still have them.
Much of the job loss has been due to the growth in automation and computing power, which has allowed manufacturers to make goods more efficiently than ever before. Learning to master such skills – everything from using Microsoft Word to controlling sophisticated factory machinery – will be critical for workers wanting to successfully transition into new fields.
For those workers, the name of game is constant improvement and retraining. “Being loyal to your employer instead of your skills these days is foolish,” Carnevale said.
Americans in general recognize that, according to Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Center. In a Pew survey, 54 percent of U.S. adults said that in order to keep up with changes in the workplace, it will be essential for them to get training and develop new skills throughout their work life. Those who already have a college degree are more likely to see the necessity for more training than are less-educated workers.
And there is evidence that workers are already doing so: The Pew survey found that 45 percent of employed adults had taken a class or gotten training in the previous year to boost their job skills.
Set in Wisconsin, the book (publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble) details what happened to the workforce when a General Motors plant closed during the recession. The plant had been the lifeblood of the town and its families. It never reopened.
Workers suddenly found themselves without a job in a town that had few to spare. While some hung on to their GM careers by moving to sister plants in Indiana, Texas or Kansas – often commuting home to Wisconsin on the weekends – others set out to remake themselves.
They went back to college, for technical certificates or full degrees. They learned entirely new skills. Some struggled to find their footing. Others landed good jobs.
“They turned out fine,” Goldstein said of one couple, both of whom lost jobs in the recession, went back to school and ended up in steady jobs. “But it’s an interesting illustration of what fine looks like.”