WASHINGTON (Cox News) - Although job growth is sputtering as the nation celebrates Labor Day, the future looks bright for American workers who complete college degrees or sharpen their technical skills.
Employers are bracing for a major workforce shortage that is expected to make newly created managerial and professional jobs plentiful during the next decade.
Only applicants with college degrees or advanced vocational training will qualify for the vast majority of these new posts, however. And business groups are increasingly worried that the nation's schools are not preparing enough workers to fill them.
In fact, there will be a shortage of six million college graduates during the next 10 years, predicts Ronald E. Bird, who just completed a report on the workforce for the Employment Policy Foundation, a private research group.
What's more, Bird said that recent trends indicate college graduation rates are actually declining among the so-called "Generation-X" of young workers. Among those aged 23-34, only about 25 percent had college degrees as of 1998, he said. That's three percentage points below the graduation rate for the 35-54 year-olds.
Contributing to the lack of skills among workers has been three decades of large-scale immigration, legal and illegal, that has been based largely on family ties and not on skills or education.
Among working age established immigrants, 34 percent lacked a high school diploma in 2000, says a study by the Center for Immigration Studies, a research group that favors more restrictions on immigration.
By comparison, less than 10 percent of native-born Americans had not graduated from high school.
The coming skills crunch has set off alarms in corporate boardrooms and in small businesses and helped spur the current reform movement in education.
"The needs of employers have changed," said Roberta Shulman, who specializes in workforce issues at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"There's a whole different level" of literacy and teamwork required for the new jobs, Shulman said. "Employers in surveys tell us this is what is lacking in the workforce."
She added that the Chamber of Commerce is urging businesses to become involved with their local schools.
In a further sign of concern about the skills shortfall, President Bush last week announced a program to encourage more rigorous college-prep courses for high schools in five states to be chosen next month.
Appearing at a school in Little Rock, Ark., the president said that deficiencies at high schools mean that almost half of college students must attend remedial courses.
The problem is particularly acute for minorities and students from large urban areas.
In Ohio, for example, the state's Board of Regents recently reported that four of every 10 Ohio students who attended in-state colleges wound up in remedial courses. For big cities, the rates were far higher, ranging from 70 percent in Cleveland to 59 percent in Columbus, while Dayton had 45 percent requiring the catch-up courses and Cincinnati 41 percent.
That lack of adequate preparation, as well as the growing tuition costs, have been blamed for discouraging many high school graduates from completing their college degrees.
At the same time, those without advance studies are increasingly at a disadvantage in the job market.
"A generation ago, a typical college graduate earned only 50 percent more than the typical high school graduate in full-time employment," said the Employment Policy Foundation report.
A worker with a college degree today makes almost twice as much as the high school graduate, the study said.
Moreover, the study found that 99 percent of the net new jobs created in the U.S. economy in the last decade went to persons with at least some college education.
Jobs for high school graduates increased by less than 1 percent, and jobs for those with less than a high school diploma fell by nearly half a million.
On the Internet, the Employment Policy Foundation is at http://www.epf.org
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