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Lots of jobs, if you have the skills

New list details thousands of positions in Vermont in dozens of fields, most not needing a four-year degree

BRATTLEBORO—The conventional wisdom had held that there are few jobs that pay a living wage in the state of Vermont, and that has driven young people out of the state.

The reality, according to a new job list compiled by the Vermont Department of Labor and the J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation, is that there are thousands of high-paying, high-demand jobs that now or will soon exist in Vermont.

There is one catch, however. These jobs require training and/or education beyond high school.

The job list, called “Pathways to Promising Careers,” is available online at www.mcclurevt.org/pathways. The list also will be distributed on 55,000 brochures to high schools, colleges, state agencies, counseling organizations, and nonprofits across the state.

It highlights 54 promising careers in Vermont. Each of the 54 careers pays a median wage of at least $20 per hour and is projected to have at least 100 openings statewide between now and 2024.

According to the list, Vermont will need 2,290 registered nurses, 2,280 teachers, 1,350 carpenters, 1,160 accountants, and 1,090 sales representatives.

Also expected to be in high demand are electricians (400), CNC machine operators (460), software developers (480), patrol officers (530), and industrial mechanics (350).

“These jobs represent a wide range of skills,” said Carolyn Weir of the McClure Foundation, a Burlington-based nonprofit. “And, in southern Vermont, there is already a high demand for jobs in health care, advanced manufacturing, and the construction trades.”

Weir said Vermont as a whole and southern Vermont in particular is in the midst of a demographic shift, as the average age of workers in many employment sectors rises and the Baby Boom generation moves into retirement.

“The labor market is tight for employers. They need skilled workers,” Weir said.

And, for most of the jobs, a four-year college degree isn’t needed. However, the majority require at least a two-year associate’s degree or a professional certificate.

The problem, Weir said, was that only 60 percent of Vermonters continue their education within 16 months of getting their high school diploma. For low income Vermonters, only 36 percent enroll in postsecondary classes.

The McClure Foundation wants to change those numbers. The goal is for 70 percent of Vermont’s working-age adults to possess a postsecondary degree or credential of value by 2025, and providing the data in this new job list is a first step, Weir said.

Alex Beck, workforce and education program manager at the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, said his organization welcomes this new data.

“We tried doing something like this about five years ago, but [Pathways] has the information we couldn’t get, and that’s looking at the skill sets that are needed for these jobs and the wage brackets,” Beck said.

Beck said BDCC had “a gut feeling” of what was needed for workplace development in Windham County, “but now we’ve got a road map toward where we need to be.”

For a person graduating from high school, Beck said the key question to ask is what kind of return can be expected from an investment in postsecondary education.

“Am I just marching toward a degree, or am I moving toward a career in something that I want to do?” asked Beck.

That is why both Weir and Beck are big supporters of nontraditional high school paths, such as the dual-enrollment program that allows high schoolers to also take courses at the Community College of Vermont and earn college credit while working toward a high school diploma.

Another path Beck touted is work-based learning, where students “get a chance to see what various jobs entail and see if they can envision doing [them] for a living.”

Weir envisions a Vermont economy where lifelong learning is encouraged, as well as expected, to move ahead in a career.

That includes manufacturing jobs. Beck said the education system tends to look at those jobs as requiring more brawn than brain, but “companies don’t like uneducated employees. They want smart people who are versatile and adaptable.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #397 (Wednesday, March 1, 2017).

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