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Unemployment Numbers Highlight Shifting Job Skill Needs

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Losing a job is, to say the least, difficult. Receiving severance or unemployment insurance helps pay the bills, but the mental anguish and uncertainty about finding a new job is often hard to overcome. Typically, the unemployment rate increases during a recession, even though unemployment remains an issue even during times of economic expansion.

Younger workers along with the least-educated almost always add to the highest rankings in the unemployment rate. Over the past decade, the unemployment rate for individuals aged sixteen to nineteen averaged 16.2 percent compared to 5.2 percent for the entire workforce. In June 2009, unemployment rates were 24.0 percent and 9.5 percent respectively.

The unemployment rate for workers 25 years or older with less education than a high school diploma jumped to 15.5 percent in June compared with 8.9 percent a year ago in the U.S.  Unemployment for high school graduates almost doubled as well over the past year, moving from 4.4 percent to 8.0 percent. College graduates, however, are still looking at a somewhat low unemployment rate of 4.7 percent in June compared with 2.4 percent a year ago.
During these difficult economic times, many young individuals will likely take jobs that require less skill than they have based on their education attainment. Those who have the financial wherewithal to work without pay may find it beneficial to gain experience while still searching for a job.

Based on the unemployment statistics, if everyone obtains at least a college education, there will be less unemployment. Theoretically that seems correct, but practically it can’t happen. Aptitude and interest plays a role. An office setting is not for everyone. Some people prefer occupations that do not require a college education such as working on cars, renovating furniture or homes, or cooking.

Equally important is the fact that many businesses need good workers that are not college degreed. Based on the current mix of industries in Virginia, for example, about half of the jobs in Virginia require only short- or moderate-term on-the-job training that may include an additional certification along with a high school degree. Truck drivers, sales representatives, welders, and childcare workers are among the occupations in demand-some of these jobs pay an average $60,000 a year.

In contrast, only about 23 percent of the jobs in Virginia require a bachelor’s degree or greater.   And, some of them, such as athletic trainers and social services specialists earn a wage of less than $50,000 a year! The best solution for Virginia is to have a strong economic development plan that is underpinned with a highly skilled, highly qualified workforce and an infrastructure that is commented to lifelong learning.

Looking to the next 10 years in Virginia, the fastest growing jobs will be those requiring an associate degree-2.5 percent a year, compared to a 1.9 percent growth rate, for example, for jobs needing a master’s degree.

How can the average student or job-seeker learn about growth occupations in Virginia? If you’re looking for employment now, go to and sign up for the Career Concourse where you can find job openings in the Richmond metropolitan area that match your skills.
If you are a student considering a degree that will lead to employment go to and click on the ‘careers’ tab. Once you’ve identified a career, you can use the site to apply for scholarships and determine the costs of attending a community college versus a four-year institution as well as what jobs are critical in your hometown.

Hang in there. This recession will end and job opportunities will once again expand. Consider your skills and the in-demand occupations that need those skills in your community. Be flexible in the short run knowing that we are all moving down a path of learning over time.
Reprinted with permission from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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