Bruce Springsteen was right: “These jobs are going … and they ain’t coming back.“

The good news, according to the North Carolina Commission on Workforce Development’s State of the Workforce Report (SOTW) 2011-2020 released late last month, is that communities can replace the low-skilled jobs previously forming the backbone of their economy with more lucrative, knowledge-based jobs.

But, workers need STEM skills to be qualified for these jobs.

“At least 42 percent, perhaps many more, of the new jobs being created in North Carolina will require at minimum some post-secondary education, many in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines,”  the report noted.

This, according to the SOTW, actually may represent an underestimate because businesses are increasingly opting to replace lower-skilled workers (lost through attrition and layoffs) with more highly-educated or trained employees.

The report underscored the need for workers to increase their skills in STEM-related jobs through job retraining programs and additional skills that are marketable in today’s complex marketplace.

“As firms begin to re-hire during the recovery, they are not likely to simply replace the workers they shed before the recession. Instead, businesses are much more likely to seek more highly-skilled workers who can do very different jobs than workers did before the firm began transforming its business model and work process,” the report distinguished.

SOTW also noted that an even higher share of new, higher-wage jobs will require STEM-related skills, and many of those jobs will require post-secondary education or industry-recognized credentials. And, many employers in North Carolina are having a difficult time finding the qualified workers needed to fill job vacancies in many fast growing professions – despite the fact that these jobs pay considerably more than those in other areas.

“STEM-related jobs will continue to serve as the economic foundation for the state’s future, providing employees with wages well above that of the state,” the reported concluded. “While the average 2010 U.S. wage for all occupations was $21.34 per hour, workers in STEM-related occupations earned $33.69 per hour (58 percent more).”

This disparity is equally striking in North Carolina’s labor market. On average, North Carolina’s STEM-related jobs pay 64 percent more than the average job.

While the report didn’t offer specific recommendations, it did propose numerous questions that should be considered by policymakers on both sides of the aisle as they consider ways to address the state’s changing workforce needs.

Get more details on the report at the N.C. Commission on Workforce Development website. A webcast presentation featuring a panel discussion also is available for viewing.

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