There's a labor shortage, but are there jobs for people who only hold a h.s. diploma or equivalency certificate?


The Executive Director of a Boston-based college and career readiness organization that serves high school students through the use of a blended learning approach, Gary Kaplan, has a blog entitled "Labor Shortage Continues. 99% of Jobs Go to College Graduates." In it he documents that in some parts of the country employers are not hiring people who only have high school diplomas. 

  • What's the employment outlook for your graduates now that the national unemployment rate, 4.3%, is at a 16-year low?
  • Are employers in your community hiring people who may have only a high school diploma, or an HSE, or perhaps even without these certifications?
  • Are employers in your community complaining that there is "a real shortage of available workers, especially in skilled trades"?
  • How does this comment by a Fortune 500 Industrial CEO strike you? "The computer is the new tool box. There’s one every 20 feet on our shop floor. Our workers need to be able to think creatively and solve problems. There are no jobs in advanced manufacturing for high school diplomas.”  If you agree, how is your program addressing this need for your students?
  • Have you read this report, "“America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have-Nots” from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce? Does it speak to the reality in your community?
  • Do you agree with Gary Kaplan that we need to address a job economy that is not changing but has already changed? If so, what can we do to help adult learners meet their needs for work in this new economy?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

Program Management, and Integrating Technology CoPs


Thanks for posting this, David, and for raising these important questions. I can relay a quick anecdote. My neighbor, who runs a small business, often needs employees with advanced manufacturing skills. He spoke to me about the trouble he has finding employees who can do the job. I mentioned to him that he should consider hiring skilled immigrants because many of them have backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and are currently underemployed. Plus, immigrants make excellent employees! I'm hoping to make some connections that will be helpful to both my neighbor and the skilled immigrants in our community.

I would love to hear what members think about these issues that affect so many of the learners we serve.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

This NYT article provides an interesting debate on the size of a middle skills gap.  The excerpt below highlights the different perspectives, and introduces the counter perspective, which economists call 'job-market polarization'.


“Demand is growing for middle-skill workers — machinists, technicians, health care practitioners and a broad range of other roles,” Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said in a Politico op-ed in 2014.

But extensive economic research on the subject suggests essentially the opposite trend: The proportion of middle-skill jobs in the economy has declined since the 1980s, while relative job growth has been concentrated at either the low end of the spectrum, like retail, or the high end, like software development, a related phenomenon economists refer to as job-market “polarization.” The former class of jobs tends to be undesirable for many former factory workers. The latter tends to be out of reach even with additional training.


This last sentence is presented as almost a statement of fact, but without any evidence supporting its assertion.  In fact, it likely runs counter to the experiences of many adult learners in job training and career pathways programs across the U.S.  If you can think of one example of someone who beat these odds, I ask you to have a conversation with them about sharing their success story.  We need to shine a light on these examples, and learn from them, in order reverse the stereotype that these individuals don't benefit themselves, their families, and society by being involved in job training and career pathways programs.

LINCS is your platform to share these success stories.  As your moderators, we're here to work with you on making our community an example of what works for our learners.  Help us to do this today!  Post to this thread, email us directly, however you chose to connect.  We're here, and ready to help share your learners' successes.

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

Good day Michael and everyone, I know you requested success stories, but I have not been able to find any that are real successes in that Middle Job Market. You quoted the clarification of the job polarization problem and then questioned if polarization was indeed the case. What I am experiencing indicates there is a massive polarization problem and education is still beating a drum over data that is almost 4 years old now.    Factory jobs used to be sufficient to live off of. Yes, the hours were long and the conditions often poor, but there was a significant wage that accompanied that. These jobs became automated and outsourced to cheaper labor pools and are no longer available.    Service sector jobs have grown in contrast and these are classified as retail jobs, hotel type jobs, cashiers and such. These are the jobs that that last sentence in your quote refer to. 
 The former class of jobs tends to be undesirable for many former factory workers. 
The reason these jobs are undesirable is that almost all of them are part time jobs with no benefits and pay a wage that is not sufficient for a person to live on even if they manage to hold down TWO of these types of jobs. Therefore these are undesirable as a career option and are often just fillers to have some money coming in. Coincidently, any ONE of these crappy jobs removes all social assistance available to the workers family and those social assistance totals are often much greater than the paltry income the job offers.    On the other end of the spectrum are the more skilled jobs that are currently starting to develop a labor shortage. These skilled jobs often require very specific training (usually 4 years) and in many cases the hire committees are looking for years of experience as well. That last requirement is slacking off a bit as they realize there just are not many people trained in the way they wish. This is partially a challenge at the college level in that the degrees offered and the educational experiences in college are not preparing people for these very specific types of jobs. I have students that successfully got engineering degrees only to find they can't get a job because of their lack of engineering experience in the field. Companies end up having to do new hire training programs that last at least a fiscal quarter before they have an employee that semi fits their needs. For the vast majority of our adult ed students, these jobs are out of reach, at least in a timely fashion. You know that given time things are changing so fast that a student may start off on a 5-6 year treck to get trained properly only to find that what they were trained for is now obsolete by the time they graduate.    You ask for evidence and examples that reverse the stereotype but I don't think it is a stereotype. It is the job market today. The data from the report is 2014, that is almost 4 years ago. Think of all the changes in our lives in the last 4 years!!!!! Well, work places and current job offerings have all changed as much during that time. Sadly, education has not changed anywhere near as much in that time, incidentally. I attended a public forum on childhood poverty and saw some current job data graphs yesterday that covered 2015 through 2017 and it was astounding to me (a math guy) at how "dried up" that middle job market is. I have worked with dozens of adult learners in their early 20s this last year or two that have graduated adult ed or graduated with a two year degree and are looking for work. The ONLY jobs they are finding are in those bottom service level jobs. The best case are those trained as CNAs in terms of pay, but the job has such a high burn out rate that learners often struggle to persist long enough in that position to have an opportunity to start advancing to the next position up which is a much more rewarding job.    I am struggling to find the career paths that always existed for us as we grew up. I am not seeing how even a 4 year degree is sufficient for many of the jobs being advertised as "high need, high demand". For example: I live near Jackson Labs here in Maine. They are a bio tech company that does research on mice to develop and test many potential treatments and conditions. They have been massively searching for new hires for the last year just to fill the position of animal handler (cleaning rat cages, feeding them...) and they even advertise "no experience necessary". I have personally worked with over a dozen adult ed graduates that have applied for one of these entry level positions and every single one of them has been told they are under-qualified for the position .... the position of cleaning and feeding rats!!!!! Now, I am ignorant of any of the particulars of the jobs or the rejection specifics, but you can understand how disheartening it is for these recent grads to feel so successful to get HS credentials and have "opportunities" only to find they are under-qualified (after all that hard work) to clean rat cages. The pay for this position, by the way was $13 to $15 / hour which many of my learners consider to be a good wage. That equates to only $25k to 30K a year which might qualify as middle level income but not by very much, especially if the family has any kids.    Maybe the jobs are out there somewhere, but I have been helping adult learners in Maine for the last few years try to find them with no luck. The small handful of success stories I know of were because someone knew someone else and was brought in under conditions and managed to make it. They got the job because of their associations, not because they were prepared or qualified. If you want me to post those success stories I can, but I don't feel they support the expectation that education improves economic stability in the middle level jobs today.    I am sorry if this sounds at all jaded, it is not intended to be so. It is simply my frustration in hearing so much about the importance of education and how so many opportunities open up to people with that education and yet our job markets and RECENT data indicate that there is in no statistical way these jobs available to our learners. Possibly it is just a Maine problem or just my experiences locally, but the stereotypes you site are the realities I am seeing here. There are no middle level jobs available that a learner can live on or qualify for. I continue to look for them every day and welcome any current job examples you or others may have. CNA is the only field I can find a semi decent wage but I have yet to see adult learners surviving in these jobs for a significant time.    Perhaps this may help the field. Everyone pretend you just got out of adult ed, maybe you are even enrolled in a community college and do a job search in your area or state. It would be great for you to share how many jobs you think you might qualify for or have a chance at getting. After doing this for a number of days or weeks, we may have some very interesting data to discuss as educators and may even start to question all the old data assertions that "education equates to more and better employability today".    Just so you know I am not all gloom and doom on this topic, I do have a solution. I feel that we need to develop more innovation centers. These agencies are designed to help identify and foster passions into economic stability in 3-5 years for the individuals. In the great depression there just were no jobs available and no money going around. We got out of that difficult time period because of innovation and the national focus on fostering innovation. We are in a similar position now and our solution for our adult learners is to help them learn how to innovate, self regulate and utilize their passions and gifts to create economic opportunities. Instead, I feel we are trying to plug individuals into a system that has data that indicates it is collapsing or at least becoming antiquated for our current population.    Hopefully others are experiencing more positives in their middle job growth area? The data I saw last night has confirmed my experiential dread that our middle income options are drying up. Do you see it drying up or is it quite healthy (where)? Do you see evidence or examples of how learners are landing middle level jobs based on credentials and now associations? I will be sure to share your success stories with the many 20-30 year olds that are currently struggling to get into that middle ground economic level. 

Hi, Ed -

Thanks for sharing your perspective from Maine.  I'm imagining that there are some regional differences in middle skills job opportunities, which creates a variable employment landscape across the U.S.  I'm curious about your idea for innovation centers, and how they could possibly create greater opportunity in these regions where graduates are struggling to connect to career pathways.  Can you cite any examples, or even models, of what these might look like, and how they would work to address the problem of under-employment?


Mike Cruse

One key aspect of innovation is that it is a much slower path to economic stability. It would be impractical to expect one to simply be engaging in innovation expecting a check to come in each month one can subsist on. 

The idea is that while our learners are taking care of basics like academics, soft skills, job basics and career explorations and simply surviving on existing low level jobs, we can be introducing elements that help people explore what might be their passions and how those passions might become economically viable. I have not seen a full blown implementation of what I have in mind, but I have seen a few elements or examples that hint at would might be. 

SCORE and other agencies around the state offer much free support to individuals thinking about one day running their own business. They offer free classes that bring people from concept through marketing research, business planning, loan applications, first year start up, employees and so many other aspects individuals need to consider when trying to look at options self employment. I personally participated in some of these free training and although they did not completely fit my needs at the time, I learned a ton that I have been able to share with my learners. It seems it would be quite easy to either partner or incorporate "How to start up a business" type training into our learners' experiences. 

I can't remember the name of the model or even which agency was offering it, but in my 20s, I attended a workshop type format centered around innovation and ideas. I think it was held by a local county agency a couple of decades ago so I am not sure if it is still an offering. Each week we would gather for 1-2 hours to talk with a wide variety of others that chose to attend. Some were already business owners looking for ideas. Some were unemployed people showing up as an obligation for their unemployment check, and some were there simply to try to nurture some ideas they had. The moderator would have a theme and the themes would build from week to week. We had started our first session simply brainstorming as a group and then as individuals what our passions might be. Defining the word even took some time for us to develop. In later sessions, People were encouraged to formulate a core idea they wanted to play with, pitch it to others and get positive and negative feedback as well as options and suggestions. I guess the closest I have seen lately to this idea is the show Shark Tank, but that show just demonstrates the pitch/feedback portion of the process. I could see weekly sessions of discussion and brainstorming/feedback helping many of our learners discover more about themselves, how to interact with others, how to present themselves well, and how to positive dish out and take criticism in a productive way. 

A third model I would offer is again not a formal program I have seen established anywhere. In this model, we establish support for exploring non traditional ways of perusing an idea. Traditional business models all involve market research, loans, first year expenses and business plans among other standards. These are all well and good, but many of us starting from scratch will not have the resources to take such risks or to even think about loans required. This leads us to the non traditional methods of starting up. In my personal case, I was encouraged by some peers to "Give away your goods or services and if what you are giving away has value, you will start to see what that value is. If it does not have value, you will start to get feedback as to why and be able to adapt." I did not trust this at first, but given the time I was instructed to give (3 years) I was able to find more success in my endeavor than I thought I might. In another example. A learner I have been working with for 2 years has been struggling to continue in some college courses and she has begun to question why she was even going to college in the first place. Her passion is art, drawing in particular. She has already run some successful adult ed classes that were very well received and this helped her feel confident that teaching her art skills may be an avenue. Of course, as we all know, enrollment in any given class can fluctuate wildly, so she eventually wanted to explore other options. She finally found an option that she was not aware of nor was she ever told about in any of the career counseling she received from local agencies. Freelance agencies can help people apply their passions in many fields in a way that good work is rewarded with more work and then more and more compensation for that work as trust and reputation builds. A sample site like this is Upwork, but there are many freelance navigators out there for a variety of fields/passions. She is also exploring Etsy and even Pinterest as a way of getting work out there for others to either purchase or to learn more about her skills and interest. The idea is to utilize the many digital options we have today to get our passions (products or services) out there to the masses. This digital shotgun approach helps us learn more about possible application options as well as getting feedback that helps us determine more accurately where our passions fit and do not fit. 

In terms of the under-employment, I see most of my learners as all under employed right now. They may have one or two part time jobs that barely bring in enough to survive on, but they obviously want something more stable. It does not appear many middle level jobs are available today to help with that stability. Investing in one's passions as a longer term investment can help to create an innovative,  middle level career that can become quite stable if nurtured and fed appropriately. All the while, we all do what we must to try to keep things afloat.

Oh, a side note on this innovation pathway: it is very hard to tax or show a profit on efforts to build your reputation. As you are giving away samples of your products and services it is much easier to show a net loss. This may not jeopardize any assistance currently being received. Traditionally, getting yet another part time job at today's wages often ends up in a net loss as assistance is removed. Interesting aspect in that you are building reputation capitol while not jeopardizing economic capitol. 

I am sure that a small group could brainstorm a number of other models that might be incorporated into an Innovation Camp type event. I have just not seen an organization have Innovation development as a core thread or focus. I repeat that innovation takes time (3-5 years typically) to produce anything substantial or consistent. Do people have ideas or experiences that could be added into Innovation Pathways type discussions?

Hi Ed and others,

Ed, you wrote:

"SCORE and other agencies around the state offer much free support to individuals thinking about one day running their own business. They offer free classes that bring people from concept through marketing research, business planning, loan applications, first year start up, employees and so many other aspects individuals need to consider when trying to look at options self employment. I personally participated in some of these free training and although they did not completely fit my needs at the time, I learned a ton that I have been able to share with my learners. It seems it would be quite easy to either partner or incorporate "How to start up a business" type training into our learners' experiences."

I think some ESL/ESOL programs offer entrepreneurship services for immigrant adult learners. Examples include Community Action, Inc. in Central Texas, the Immigrant Learning Center, in Malden, Massachusetts. and others. The Immigrant Learning Center's Public Education Institute has published several articles and papers about immigrant entrepreneurship.  A slide presentation by Jon Engel and Francesca Ramirez, from Community Action Inc. on immigrant entrepreneurship will be found here. Their presentation notes that entrepreneurship training is an option under WIOA. Many (many) years ago, when I was the Director of Education at Jobs for Youth Boston, JFY had a large-scale youth Entrepreneurship program, I think the first in the country for low-income young adults some of whom lacked a HSE or high school diploma. The Youth Business Iniotiative, as it was called offered training, loans and technical assistance from entrepreneur mentors, all in plain language. It was quite successful, and even when the young adults did not start businesses, or where they did not over time succeed, the impact evaluations found that they thought they had learned things that were useful in employment, and sometimes in their personal lives. There's nothing like having to put together a business plan to get a loan or a grant to teach one discipline and attention to detail! At the time there was a very successful Maine entrepreneurship skills training organization for adults -- and young adults -- called The Maine Idea, that I think no longer exists, but that had a great impact in Maine and in other states in the 1980's and 1990's. They had a great entrepreneurship curriculum and training staff. I wonder, Ed, if you had attended their workshops, or if the workshops you had attended were influenced by their their curriculum or trainers.

You also wrote:

"Traditionally, getting yet another part time job at today's wages often ends up in a net loss as assistance is removed."  I think you were referring to the loss of public assistance benefits when people get low-wage jobs. This is a widespread and well-documented phenomenon often known as the "benefits cliff"  I wonder if any states -- or the federal government -- have addressed the public policy/ies that discourages people from working their way up out of poverty. If not, this problem could certainly be an obstacle for those who want to earn a high school credential, go to a community college or training program, and get on a career pathway, especially if they have families whose medical benefits and food stamps are at risk if they work more -- and, without these benefits, end up earning less. Anyone have solutions to the benefits cliff challenge?

David J. Rosen


Hello colleagues, Job growth varies depending on one's geographic location, and, of course, the unemployment rate also differs from place to place, although, as David notes, nationwide the rate is currently quite low at 4.3%. A recent Forbes article highlights the fastest growing jobs that includes several jobs that require no or minimal post-secondary training, i.e., construction workers, personal care aids, food preparation workers, and customer service representatives. Other jobs on the list include registered nurses and software developers, jobs that require training.

We all know plenty of adult learners who would like to get onto career paths toward rewarding jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. The vast majority have to work in low-wage jobs while getting the training they need. Many also are juggling family responsibilities. Adult educators are well aware that the limitations of time and finances make achieving goals challenging -- though not impossible.

We certainly do need to celebrate successes. Hearing these stories is motivating for all!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

Hi, Susan -

I agree that reading about success stories of adults who've made the transition from low-wage jobs into middle skilled career pathways is motivating.  It makes me smile to see more of these stories in the news, like this article from the New York Times, titled, A New Kind of Tech Job Emphasizes Skills, Not a College Degree.


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

Mike, Susan and others,

This article not only describes Mr Bridges' success story, but it points out an important new trend, recruiting and promoting for certified skills, or hiring and promotion for company internal career pathways based on competencies and micro-credentials, regardless of college degrees.

"Mr. Bridges represents a new but promising category in the American labor market: people working in so-called new-collar or middle-skill jobs. As the United States struggles with how to match good jobs to the two-thirds of adults who do not have a four-year college degree, his experience shows how a worker’s skills can be emphasized over traditional hiring filters like college degrees, work history and personal references. And elevating skills over pedigree creates new pathways to employment and tailored training and a gateway to the middle class."

IBM has been an important pioneer in this effort, but this appears to be catching on in other parts of the digital technology industry, and perhaps elsewhere.

"The skills-based concept is gaining momentum, with nonprofit organizations, schools, state governments and companies, typically in partnerships, beginning to roll out such efforts. On Wednesday, the approach received a strong corporate endorsement from Microsoft, which announced a grant of more than $25 million to help Skillful, a program to foster skills-oriented hiring, training and education. The initiative, led by the Markle Foundation, began last year in Colorado, and Microsoft’s grant will be used to expand it there and move it into other states."

The NY Times article mentions but doesn't fully explore this trend.  Let's look into Skillful and TechHire, the flagship program of Opportunity@Work, and keep our eyes out for more articles on this trend which may offer adult learners without post secondary education some new and promising job opportunities.

David J. Rosen

Susan and others,

The Forbes article mentions three of the fastest growing jobs that don't require post-secondary education:

1) Construction laborer, the fastest-growing position, median pay $32,230

2) Personal care aid, the second-fastest growing position, median pay $21,920

3) Food preparation worker came in third, median pay not listed

It would be useful to many adult basic skills (including ESL/ESOL, HSE, and college transition) programs and schools to have clearly articulated career pathways for each of these high priority jobs. With these entry-level positions, where do people step next on their career pathway, and how far can they travel in the construction, health care, and hotel and hospitality industries with these first-step jobs? What further training and education will they need? What kinds of remuneration can they expect at each step? Are there plain language infographics in English and other languages designed for adult learners that describe these career pathways? If not, there should be. Adult learners need them and so do the programs that serve them.

What can we -- in the Career Pathways CoP -- do to bring them about if they don't already exist?

David J. Rosen



Pennsylvania has developed career pathway maps that might be similar to what David is suggesting. I found one for construction workers at


They also have a Career pathway map template in a work document that can be completed for any career pathway.

Hello Di, and others,

Thanks Di. The construction career pathway in the first document would certainly be helpful. I wonder if Penn State's Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy developed career pathways for industries in which the other two jobs are a first step, or if they could consider doing that now. The template they developed, the second document you linked, might be useful to others who are newly developing career pathways for industries in their state(s).

David J. Rosen

Hi Ed, and others,

O*net is a great source of information for building career pathways, and often those who create them draw on O*net as well as as state a local employment, education and training resources.


David J. Rosen


I have long championed the middle skill jobs as a way for students to enter a skilled profession and earn a sustainable wage. Unfortunately, the data that is coming out seems to also be contrary to the sustainable wage.While my students have secured employment, their wage variance causes a constant struggle. I want to draw your attention to the following article from New York Times. The author, Patricia Cohen, states, "But even a reliable paycheck no longer delivers a reliable income."  He point emphasizes while people are gainfully employed and make a sustainable hour wage, the shifting schedules makes financial planning all but impossible. Some weeks, an employee would have 39 hours and other weeks - only 15. "More and more employees across a growing range of industries find the number of hours they work is swinging giddily from week to week. And a new wave of research shows that the main culprit is not the so-called gig economy, but shifting pay within the same job."

So, my question is, how do we move students into successful middle skills that also provides a sustainable work schedule.   Kathy Tracey

<p>In Delaware many high school graduates work at Walmart and Amazon. &nbsp;These two employers advertise aggressively and have filled most of their jobs as they are needed. &nbsp;BUT it must be noted that both employers "really work" their employees. &nbsp;Many of the jobs at Amazon involve heavy lifting. &nbsp;Many of the jobs at Walmart involve inventory and unloading trucks and moving stock off the shelves to where consumers can find the stock.</p>