Education will pay dividends for those entering job market

Posted: Tuesday, May 11, 2004

What are young people to do these days in deciding on careers? That has always been a problem, but with many good-paying technical jobs being moved to places like India and China, such decisions have become even dicier.

There are no sure things. The good news, according to the Wall Street Journal, is that the United States ''isn't going to run out of jobs, even though history shows that it's impossible to predict what new jobs will replace those that are destroyed'' by technological progress or changing world economics.

The bad news, says the Journal, is that ''Outsourcing overseas and technology could widen the gap between the wages of well-paying brainpower jobs and poorly paid hands-on jobs.'' That is the most troublesome of the Journal's conclusions, since economic division could result in social division.

One obvious answer to young Alaskans wanting to avoid winding up on the bottom of the heap is to get as much education as possible. Employers pay a substantial premium for workers with four-year college degrees over those with high-school diplomas -- and that premium has been climbing steadily for the last 20 years.

Though the villain of the day is foreign competition and job outsourcing, there is always something. During the days when Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, the prognosticators warned that automation would eliminate many of the jobs on which the nation's economy was based.

But in the years since then, the economy has added 72 million jobs, an increase of 125 percent. Automation did eliminate many traditional jobs, but in doing so it created millions more.

In 1988, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that the number of gas-station attendants would increase by more than 300,000 in the following 12 years. But the experts failed to predict that most gas stations would go to self-service and the number of station attendants in 2000 would be only 140,000 altogether.

Some might suggest that young people should learn jobs that can't be shipped abroad -- like hairstyling, since customers can't send their heads overseas -- but what happens if developing technology allows men and women to style their own hair?

The key to success will almost certainly be -- as it has been for generations -- to get as much education as possible, to be flexible, able and willing to learn new skills and to put one's own special talents into play whenever possible.

After that, only hard work and good luck can make a difference.

-- The Voice of the (Anchorage) Times

May 3

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