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It’s time to start filling worker shortages from many different directions

  • Joanna
  • February 22, 2017

U.S. jobless claims may be at historically low levels,  but even though many Americans are now able to find work, not everyone is finding work in the fields in which they have been trained.

Among those who are most struggling to find jobs in their fields: graduates in sociology, with an under-employment rate of 56.5 percent; psychology, with an under-employment rate of 56.6 percent; and criminal justice majors, with an under-employment rate of 74.4 percent.

And those folks aren’t alone. Even in STEM pursuits like chemical engineering, biology, and economics, many people are having a hard time finding work.

Meanwhile, America has a teacher shortage — and there are some signs that it’s getting worse.

That’s why a new Oklahoma program to help unemployed and under-employed people enroll in a teacher preparation program is so promising. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act-sponsored program is a tacit acknowledgement of both the vital importance of teaching and the sad reality that, over the past few decades, our nation has issued a whole lot of four-year degrees for professions that don’t have room for new blood at this time.

But teaching isn’t the only profession with a worker shortage. And backfilling many other jobs may be an even tougher nut to crack. That’s in part because while it might not be hard to convince under-employed people with four-year degrees to consider teaching, our society has allowed a workforce pecking order to persist — one that suggest people with four year degrees in things like sociology, criminal justice and biology couldn’t possibly be interested in jobs in fields like plant and systems operations, rail transportation, machining and electrical work.

If we’re going to address our worker shortages, we need to destroy the notion of the “sorts of people” who might be interested in good jobs with good pay and good benefits — and build pathways to fill these sorts of jobs from all different directions.