Skills gap widens — or does it?

By 2020, there will be five million more jobs requiring university degrees than there will be four-year graduates to fill them, if current graduation trends continue, according to new research from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. Thirty-five percent of job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree and 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree, the Recovery report projects.

But reports of a widening skills gap have generated widening skepticism, reports Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.

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Georgetown foresees “a major shortage of college-educated workers, especially as baby boomers retire,” says Anthony Carnevale, the center’s director.

If the report is accurate, 23.6 percent of the workforce will need bachelor’s degrees and 10.9 percent will need graduate degrees, says economist Robert Lerman, an Urban Institute fellow. That’s close to the current percentages.

Georgetown also projects 12.7 percent of workers will need associate’s degrees, more than the 10.8 percent who have them currently.

Apprenticeships could substitute for associate degrees in some cases, Lerman believes.

Nearly half of four-year graduates said their jobs don’t require a college degree in a McKinsey survey last month.

Critics say previous warnings of a job skills gap haven’t come true. “It keeps going through these cycles,” says Hal Salzman, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers. “And every time it’s raised, there are serious studies that are done, and they say, ‘We can’t find the shortage.’”

The “middle-skills” jobs gap is real, but sending more young people to college isn’t the only answer, says Salzman. “College is not for everybody, and it’s really not an efficient way to do a lot of workplace preparation, if that’s our goal.”

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Wilbert D. Fields

It’s a good time to ask this question since the same month Santorum sounded off at the press, the U.S. Census Bureau released its “Educational Attainment in the United States: 2011″ report. It found that as of March 2011, “for the first time ever, more than 30 percent of U.S. adults 25 and older had at least a bachelor’s degree.” For context, as recently as 1998, that number was under 25 percent.

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