A Question of Opportunity: Report From Fed Banks in Cleveland, Philadelphia Examines Job Prospects for Adults Without College Degrees

By Jay Miller and Scott Suttell, Crain's Cleveland Business

Cleveland and Akron score relatively well in a new Federal Reserve report that examines "opportunity employment" — the availability of jobs that do not require a four-year college degree but give workers the chance to earn more than the national annual median wage of $37,690.

The report, released Wednesday, April 17, was produced jointly by the Federal Reserve Banks of Cleveland and Philadelphia. It's called "Opportunity Occupations Revisited: Exploring Employment for Sub-Baccalaureate Workers Across Metro Areas and Over Time." (You can go here to access a PDF of the 41-page report.)

A news release from the Cleveland Fed noted that opportunity employment "accounts for 21.6 percent of total employment in 121 of the nation's largest metropolitan areas." Occupations offering the most opportunity employment are health care (registered nurses and licensed practical/vocational nurses), skilled trades (carpenters and electricians) and office work (accounting clerks and administrative supervisors).

There's great variety in metro areas.

Among the 121 metros analyzed for the report, the share of opportunity employment was highest in Toledo, at 34%, and lowest in Washington, D.C., at 14.6%.

Cleveland, at 30.1%, was No. 7 for opportunity employment, according to the Fed report.

Other figures for Ohio cities are as follows:

• Akron: 28.1% (it ranked 16th nationwide)

• Cincinnati: 29.1%

• Columbus: 25.3%

• Dayton: 28.2%

In the release, the Cleveland Fed said that some of the largest opportunity employment occupations, including a number in health care and the skilled trades, "could experience above-average growth through 2026 and are not considered to be at significant risk of automation." The reverse is true, though, for some occupations in office and administrative support.

The report suggests that to expand opportunities for the 68% of adults without a four-year college degree, "economic development efforts could focus on industries characterized by high levels of opportunity employment, both private sector and public sector programs for post-secondary skills development could be expanded, and employers could re-evaluate the level of education that a job requires and the ways they assess the skills of job candidates from different educational backgrounds," according to the release.

In the Cleveland metro area, the top opportunity occupations are registered nurses (where 17,400 people are employed and who have an average median wage of $67,400), customer service representatives (13,300/$34,500), secretaries and administrative assistants (13,000/$35,700), maintenance and repair workers (10,000/$39,400) and tractor-trailer truck drivers (9,800/$41,600).

In the Akron metro area, the top opportunity occupations are registered nurses (5,400/$69,200), secretaries and administrative assistants (4,700/$34,300), tractor-trailer truck drivers (4,500/$42,600), bookkeeping and accounting clerks (3,100/$37,100) and maintenance and repair workers (3,000/$43,000).

The Fed believes this picture of local economic opportunity for sub-baccalaureate workers is unique. Its researchers — Kyle Fee and Lisa Nelson of the Cleveland Fed, and Keith Wardrip of the Philadelphia Fed — used labor market information only recently available, including online job ads.

The study found that, in some cases, the availability of jobs for people without college degrees varied from region to region in part because of what the report calls "the dynamic nature of employer skill requirements." In other words, if more highly educated candidates are available employers may prefer those candidates even if it means paying them more for work that a person without the degree could handle capably.

"(A) a commitment to objectively assessing the skills of applicants with a variety of experiences and educational backgrounds could simultaneously reduce employer costs and expand opportunities for some prospective workers in the process," the authors said.

 

 

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