Want a Good-Paying Job but Don’t Have a Bachelor’s Degree? No Problem!

What is a good-paying job? The answer to this question is certainly arbitrary. However, a recent study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce entitled Good Jobs That Pay Without a BA: A State-by-State Analysis attempts to define a starting point: a good job is one with minimum earnings of $35,000 for those under age 45 and $45,000 for workers age 45 and older.

The comprehensive study segments each state’s workforce by education level, industry and how many workers have a good job, based on the report’s criteria. Here’s the interesting part: it indicates that about 30 million of the nation’s 123 million workers have a good-paying job, despite not having a bachelor’s degree. That’s about one-third of the U.S. labor force.

In Utah though, the percentage of workers without a bachelor’s who have a good-paying job is much higher and one of the largest in the nation at 53 percent. The median earnings of non-bachelor’s workers with a good job is $56,000, compared to $84,000 for those workers with a bachelor’s degree.

The reasons for the number of good-paying jobs for workers without a bachelor’s degree have been the state’s economic resiliency, retention of blue-collar jobs and growth in the skilled-services industries.

Between 1991 and 2015, the United States lost nearly 1.3 million good-paying blue-collar jobs, characterized as a working-class person who performs non-agricultural manual labor. During the same period, the country added more than four million skilled-services jobs for workers without bachelor’s degrees. Skilled workers possess a special skill, training, knowledge or ability that was acquired from their work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, examples of skilled-services jobs include home and personal healthcare professionals, technicians (solar, auto, diesel, wind turbine), nursing assistants and occupational therapy aides, just to name a few.

Unlike many states that experienced a steep transition from the number of blue-collar to skilled workers, Utah actually added both blue‑collar and skilled-services, non-bachelor degree jobs during the same time period—92,000 and 81,000, respectively.

In fact, Utah had a 105-percent increase in blue-collar, non-bachelor degree jobs, the highest in the nation, and a 139-percent increase in skilled-services ones, the sixth highest in the United States.

In Utah, the top five industries for workers without a bachelor’s degree to find employment are manufacturing, construction, financial activities, real estate, retail trade, and transportation and utilities.

For Utah employers in these industries, chances are these increases have affected their hiring practices. With growth in both types of non-bachelor degree jobs, they likely are seeing a very tight, competitive candidate market. In addition, they are coping with the compensation expectations that come with attempting to recruit and retain candidates who have plenty of options in the market.

Because 66 percent of Utah’s workforce does not have a bachelor’s degree, employers may need to consider how they weigh candidates with the appropriate skills training versus those who hold a four‑year degree but lack the required skills.

Employers may need to change their hiring practices to evaluate a candidate’s skill set, perhaps even testing for certain skills as part of the application process. And, in certain circumstances, they must consider training up the right candidates.

This sentiment is beginning to gain national traction. A recent article in The Atlantic entitled “Employers Are Looking for Job Candidates in the Wrong Places” touches on this exact point. Quoting from the article: “Many companies could benefit from deflating college degrees and in turn giving more weight to skills-based training like apprenticeships or coding bootcamps. This training, at least in theory, ensures the applicant in question has the abilities that the job requires. In the long run, skills-based job screening could reduce the number of failed hires a company experiences.”

Given a very competitive candidate market, employers who need blue-collar, or mid- or highly skilled workers must proactively develop and commit to a plan to succeed in talent attraction, acquisition and retention.

Susan Hornbuckle is the Utah territory vice president for Kelly Services. She oversees the staffing and business solutions operations for Kelly throughout the state, with a focus on staffing for accounting and finance, administrative, aerospace and defense, education, engineering, information technology, light industrial and manufacturing, and more. Connect with Susan at:


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