June 15, 2014; Argus Leader

A recent article written for job search website identified the top ten occupations based on current and emerging employer demand as reported by the US Labor Department. The good news is that, between now and 2022, the Labor Department estimates these ten occupations will expand by almost 4 million jobs. The bad news is that six of the ten occupations, representing almost two-thirds of the jobs, pay minimum or near-minimum wage. Even more jarring is that nine of the ten top jobs require little or no formal education, and the tenth doesn’t require a college education.

Much of the demand for new employees comes from occupations taking care of the retiring baby boomer generation. Personal care aides, home health aides, nursing assistants, and janitors/building cleaners are included in this group. From fast food to retirement homes, as always, there is demand for food preparation and serving workers. Retail salespeople are always in demand. None of these six occupations requires a college education, though some health occupations require specialized study and a certification exam. None of these occupations has a median full-time annual salary above $25,000—about $12.50 per hour. Customer service representatives, construction laborers, and secretaries/administrative assistants all have reported median annual salaries in the $30,000-$32,500 range, or about $15.00 to $16.25 per hour.

The only top ten occupation where a college education is typically seen as a prerequisite is also the only job with a median annual salary above $32,500. Registered nurses earn a median salary of $65,470. They can have a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree, or they may have a diploma from an approved nursing program.

To be sure, there are expanding fields for college-educated job seekers, as Kiplinger reported in a 2006 article listing the top-ten list for college graduates. Not surprisingly, most of these positions are in the technology and healthcare fields. Median salaries in these fields are in the $60,000–$80,000 range. Of course, the economy needs far fewer software technicians than it does servers and personal care aides.

The challenge for nonprofit service providers is positioning themselves to serve a growing cohort of individuals and families who work, yet need assistance with everything from child-care to healthcare to transportation to basic nutrition. Many of these nonprofits are organizations that employ direct service personnel in the top ten jobs categories. Some nonprofit leaders advocate for a living wage or arbitrary increases to the minimum wage to address issues affecting the working poor. However, they often also wonder whether their organizations can—or should be required to—pay higher wages to their own employees in times of scarce resources and increased demand for services.

These questions need to be faced squarely if the nonprofit sector were to see these areas as places where they may wish to provide service.—Michael Wyland