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Number, Type Of Future Jobs Will Affect Rural South
By Jana Foust,
Southern Rural Development Center
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- As the 21st century approaches, the workforce in the rural South will be polarized by high-paying, secure jobs that require high levels of education and low-paying, part-time positions that require little or no training.
According to a report published by the Southern Rural Development Center headquartered at Mississippi State University, more than half of the occupations that are growing at the fastest pace, or the "hottest" fields, will require at least an associate's degree and seven of the top 20 will require a bachelor's degree.
The "hottest" occupations that require these high levels of education will offer better pay and higher levels of job security. Many jobs of this nature, such as computer engineers and systems analysts, are indicative of the central role information technology will play in the future of the workforce, Dr. Bo Beaulieu, SRDC director, said.
"Jobs are declining in the manufacturing sector and humans are being replaced with technology," Beaulieu said. "We will see this shape the workforce of tomorrow because workers will need the skills to use this technology."
The occupations with the largest number of new jobs available, however, will not require much education or on-the-job training and will offer positions such as cashiers and home health care workers.
"Occupations that will offer the largest number of jobs in the future will be in the service sector," Beaulieu said.
Melissa Barfield, a graduate research assistant at the SRDC and co-author of the report, said occupations in this area will not provide workers with the necessary means to easily support themselves or their families.
"These occupations are offering low wages, very little job security and high rates of part-time work," Barfield said.
For the workforce in the rural South to remain competitive for jobs that require more than short-term on-the-job training, workers, both those new to the workforce and those who are currently working, must continue to receive educational opportunities.
"To be competitive, education is the bottom line," Barfield said. "There are plenty of jobs open for low-skilled workers, but we want the workforce to compete for jobs that will provide a secure future."
The report says workers will need post-secondary education to compete for good jobs in the workforce. The South in general has historically lagged behind in matters of education.
"Rural Southerners are at a double disadvantage because rates of education are lower than in urban areas," Barfield said. "This has caused the lack of education to become a prominent difficulty in the South."
"The South is making progress toward education, but we are still behind the rest of the country," Beaulieu said. "We have two choices. We can take the high road and provide more quality educational opportunities and decent jobs for our workforce or stay on the low road and fall into the low skill labor market."
The referenced report is called "The Changing Nature of Work in the South: The Polarization of Tomorrow's Workforce." Printed copies are available from the Southern Rural Development Center by calling (662) 325-3207.