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Study analyzes the jobs outlook in Philadelphia

The report evaluated certain sectors, including the education levels needed and the opportunities for promotion.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

By 2020, two-thirds of all U.S. jobs will require education beyond high school, a 2013 Georgetown University study estimates. Experts predict that less than half the working population will have the education needed to qualify for those jobs, leaving five million jobs empty across the country, according to a study from Georgetown University.

That’s a massive opportunity for young people.

In November, a study by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia looked at seven employment sectors to analyze how the city could help create opportunities for workers to get jobs that pay living wages. It categorized the
new jobs created in each field by the level of education they require.

That study is part of the city’s strategy to help workers get the skills they need to land jobs that pay enough for a family to live on and that have opportunities for promotion. Mid-skill jobs — those requiring a two-year associate’s degree or a quicker technical certificate — offer the fastest road to those wages and career opportunities.

“We have 400,000 people at the poverty level or below who are citizens needing work,” said Heloise Jettison, senior director of talent development in the city’s Department of Commerce. “To get people that bachelor’s degree is a long haul, and many people need jobs now. You can get into the ground floors of these fields and move up.”

Health care, the largest field in the city, has added 2,000 more jobs every year for the last decade, and no slow- down is expected. Several hundred of those new jobs every year are available to people with just an associate’s degree or professional certification.

Jettison pointed to the growing number of jobs for people certified to operate hospital equipment, such as radiology technicians. After completing a two-year associate’s program in diagnostic medical imaging, students enter a job market where the median wage is more than $58,000, according to the
U.S. Department of Labor.

High school graduates interested in nursing can explore a one-year certification as a licensed practical nurse, where the median annual wage is $45,030, and that certification will qualify students for advanced placement in many four-year nursing programs.

Community College of Philadelphia offers a similar three-month dental assistant program on Saturdays. The median pay for dental assistants is more than $37,000, and earning an associate’s degree will provide opportunities for promotion into higher-paying dental jobs.

Still, most of the jobs created in health care have been low-skill, low paying jobs concentrated in providing services for the elderly and disabled, such as home health aides, where the average pay is $21,000 per year.

Jettison said that home health aide jobs have high turnover, partly because they offer opportunities to gain skills and earn promotions into higher-paying positions. District 1199C works with students and adults to start or advance their careers in health care by earning certifications and degrees.

Not all of the fast-growing sectors are creating a lot of desirable mid-skill jobs. Retail and hospitality, the next fastest-growing sector, creates jobs that are almost exclusively low-income and don’t require any education beyond a high school diploma. Furthermore, relatively few of the jobs offer opportunities for promotion.

Jettison said that some companies do offer retail jobs that provide a living wage and benefits, such as Starbucks. And she applauded the recent work of Unite Here Local 274, a union representing 4,000 private hotel and food-service workers, and now recent graduates of Dobbins High School working at restaurants at Philadelphia International Airport.

“That was a huge coup,” Jettison said. “They’re able to make a really good wage going in and they continue to have more opportunities for promotion.”

Unionized workers earn higher wages and better benefits than their non-unionized peers, and the gap is only growing despite a decline in union membership over the last several decades, according to the Department of Labor.

The early childhood education field has expanded rapidly since the mayor began his effort to implement free universal pre-K. But it’s also the lowest-paid, behind even the retail and hospitality sector. Most jobs created recently require just a high school diploma.

Jettison said the growth of early childhood education jobs in the mid-skill category is expected to accelerate in coming years, as child-care centers strive to improve their Keystone STAR quality ratings. To earn higher ratings, centers must employ more staff members with certificates or associate’s degrees in early childhood education — jobs with higher wages.

The highest shares of mid-skill jobs are still in the traditional blue-collar fields of manufacturing and logistics, and construction and infrastructure.

However, these fields shrank in the last decade and more than half of the
jobs lost have been mid-skill. The silver lining is that Philadelphia’s construction and infrastructure field is expected to grow, and while the manufacturing and logistics sector will continue to shrink, it will decline only marginally in the next decade compared to job losses over the previous decade.

These industries have some of the best opportunities for advancement, in part due to an aging workforce and its rate of retirement, but also because these sectors “have strong and well-structured training infrastructure that may be well positioned to provide targeted support for individuals to take advantage of replacement openings,” says the Economy League report.

The report calls the “existing training infrastructure” in the blue-collar industries a “model for other sectors.”

Jettison said that because Philadelphia’s port is well-positioned geographically, certain sub-industries such as transportation and advanced manufacturing are growing. Advanced manufacturing companies even report that they have a hard time filling open positions.

In 2015, the School District created a center for advanced manufacturing at Benjamin Franklin High School, which is still not fully enrolled. It offers courses to prepare students for common jobs such as precision machining, where technicians earn a median wage of more than $56,000.

The business and financial services industry has shrunk over the last decade, mainly dropping “mid-skill” jobs.

“Whether it’s shrinking or growing depends on where you are in Philadelphia and the position or occupation,” Jettison said. “You have middle-skills areas like certified public accountants — those positions are actually growing,” along with bank-teller jobs.

But that also highlights the disparity in pay even among mid-skill jobs. CPAs earn a median wage of nearly $70,000, and bank tellers earn just over $28,000.

Technology services is one of the city’s smallest industry sectors, but also the fastest-growing proportionally, adding 1,000 new jobs a year for the last three years. These jobs mostly require four-year degrees, and consequently the industry has the highest average wages.

But the tech industry also offers a growing number of mid-skill jobs in the fastest-growing sub-industries of software development and web design. And outside of manufacturing, this sector seems to offer the best model for training its own employees for promotion.

The three-month CompTIA A+ certification program teaches students the basics of computer hardware and software — how to assemble a computer, install an operating system, and so on. This may qualify graduates for some entry-level technician jobs, but many will require an associate’s degree or a more specialized credential, such as coding certifications for specific software languages.

An associate’s degree in information technology can qualify graduates for work as a computer systems analyst or systems architect. Those are fast growing jobs in Philly — working with businesses and other organizations to design computer systems and procedures or to fix problems in existing systems. They earn a median wage of more than $88,000.

Jettison said that once workers get their foot in the door, they have a lot of room for promotion and gaining skills on the job in the tech industry.

Tech companies “want someone who has a go-get-‘em attitude, who’s willing to do the work and not hesitant to step up,” she said. “Half the battle is getting someone willing to learn, who understands the basic computer skills — they’re more than willing to train their folks further.”