WSW: Same Job, More Skill Required

Nov 21, 2016

Southwest Michigan First Innovation Center - file photo
Credit WMUK

As the economy has recovered from the Great Recession, Upjohn Institute Economist Brad Hershbein says many workers have discovered they need more skills for the jobs they held before. 

Hershbein co-authored a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research. He says it looked at how the skills required for jobs changed after the economy crashed in 2008. Hershbein says previous research found an increase in demand in jobs that required more skills and education. But he says this study examined what happened within jobs. Hershbein says they found areas that had a worse time during recession, had more increases in skills required for a job, and stayed elevated for years after the recession ended.

Hershbein says the change does not appear to be a temporary phenomenon. He says there is a lot of evidence that firms decided to change how they operate during recession. Hershbein says while the pace of technology is accelerating, he says firms may wait for a good time, such as when demand for what they’re selling is low (during a recession) to make changes.

The study found that “upskilling” was widespread across different types of jobs, even those that pay pretty well, and some that require a college education. Hershbein says the geographic breakdown finds that Grand Rapids was hit harder than others. He says that may surprise some people. But Hershbein says while Grand Rapids overall is doing better than many other areas economically, there was still a significant change during the recession. 

"Security is only there to the next recession, if then."

Hershbein says the study shows the need for increased training, and life-long learning. He says it’s not just for people who need to be re-certified. Hershbein says it’s in the interest of businesses to promote increased skills for their current workforce. He says looking for people with those skills takes time and money. Hershbein says businesses can work with community colleges to keep workforce skills up to date, he says that can be good for workers, business and economy. Hershbein says the study should also be a warning for workers, even those who feel like they are in good. “Security is only there to the next recession, if then.” 

The truck driving industry is one where big changes could be coming in the future because of self-driving cars. Hershbein says a 20 year old truck driver should have a backup plan because the profession may change dramatically. But he says it’s hard to forecast out several decades. Hershbein says the take-away of the study should be to constantly monitor trends and changes. He says the big public policy question is how to ensure that education institutions are not set up to deal with that.