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Which Middle-Skill Jobs Require More Education?

Researchers at the Federal Reserve Banks of Philadelphia and Atlanta examined online job ads to study how middle-skill workers can enjoy “pathways into prosperity.” They identified four occupations that pay at least the national median wage and have generally been open to workers without a bachelor’s degree. The study controlled for the characteristics of the occupations, such as industry, experience, and skills. The four occupations chosen were:

  1. computer user support specialist
  2. registered nurse
  3. retail store supervisor
  4. executive administrative assistant

The study looked at trends in prospective employers' requests for college degrees, including how characteristics of different metropolitan areas affected those requests. Here are some of their findings:

  • Online job ads were more likely to request a bachelor’s degree in the Northeast and Midwest than in the South. Ads in the West were somewhere in the middle.
  • Employers in larger and higher-wage metropolitan areas were more likely to request a degree than employers in smaller, lower-wage markets.
  • For executive administrative assistants, experience may be a proxy for education: Ads requesting more than a year of experience were 5-6% less likely to also require a bachelor’s degree.
  • The authors used Atlanta as a benchmark to study regional differences. In Atlanta, ads for computer support jobs were more likely to request a degree than ads in almost any other metro area, including Washington, DC. The opposite was true for retail store supervisors: Most other areas were more likely to request a degree for that job.
  • Three metro areas in the St. Louis Fed’s District were included in the study: Louisville and St. Louis, respectively, were 20% and 6% less likely to request a bachelor’s degree for computer support jobs. Columbia, Missouri, was 63% less likely to request it.
  • The most degree-intensive job ads for all four occupations were from Boston, New York City, San Francisco, and San Jose.

See the full report here.


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