Job demand for college degree growing in Hawaii, report finds

February 20, 2024
Honolulu Star-Advertiser

The proportion of U.S. jobs requiring postsecondary preparation continues to inch upward, and by 2031 in Hawaii, 70% of job openings will require some type of education and/or training beyond high school, says a report from researchers at Georgetown University.

Jobs in the islands are projected to increase significantly, to 624,000 in 2031 from 591,000 in 2021, with an average of 72,000 job openings annually, said the report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown.

Of those annual local job openings, 51,000 will be for workers with postsecondary credentials, 18,000 will be for those with a high school diploma and 3,000 will be for those with less than a high school diploma, the report said. More than one-third of all Hawaii jobs in 2031 will require at least a bachelor’s degree (see accompanying box for numbers of jobs by required education levels).

“I think there is a misconception now that there are jobs that are great right here in Hawaii that you can get right after high school with just a high school diploma, and that’s just not the case,” Stephen Schatz, executive director of Hawai‘i P-20 Partnerships for Education, said in a University of Hawaii news release.

“We’re seeing that you need some kind of training,” Schatz said, “whether that’s an apprenticeship program, whether it’s a degree at a community college or whether it’s a four-year degree — some kind of post-high school training and education is what’s going to get our kids into local jobs.”

Between 2021 and 2031, net new jobs in Hawaii requiring postsecondary education and training will grow by 29,000, while net new jobs for workers with a high school education or less will grow by 4,000, the report said.

Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and lead author of the report, called the latest wave of doubt among younger people about the value of a college degree, and decreases in postsecondary enrollment, “alarming.”

Postsecondary education and training “has become the threshold requirement for access to middle-class status and earnings,” Carnevale said. “It is no longer the preferred pathway to middle- class jobs; it is increasingly the only pathway.”

Skilled workers needed

Demand for skilled workers nationwide has risen sharply over the past 50 years as technological change has moved the economy toward skilled labor and away from unskilled labor, said the report, titled “After Everything: Projections of Jobs, Education and Training Requirements Through 2031.”

In the 1970s about 28% of U.S. jobs required education and/or training beyond high school. Today the proportion is close to 68%, and by 2031 it will be 72%, the report said.

Massive growth in U.S. jobs is projected, with 171 million jobs in 2031, compared with 156 million in 2021. By 2031, 42% of jobs nationwide will require at least a bachelor’s degree, while only 28% will go to workers with a high school diploma or less, the report said.

“Increasingly, the labor force is being divided into two economies: the managerial and professional economy, in which most workers have postsecondary education, and the blue-collar and skilled-trades economy, in which just a little more than half of workers have college educations,” the report said.

Jobs in either the blue- collar clusters of occupations, or the food and personal services clusters, will be the most common occupations for workers with a high school diploma or less in 2031, the report said.

The 2031 projection for Hawaii jobs requiring postsecondary preparation represents an increase of 1 percentage point from 2021, when it was 69%, according to data in the report.

The projected trends vary widely by state. For instance, in 2031 in the District of Columbia, more than 80% of all jobs are expected to require postsecondary education, while in Louisiana and Arkansas it is expected to be less than 60%.

Hawaii is one of 20 states where the 2031 share of jobs that will require workers with some postsecondary training and/or education beyond high school is projected in the report at 69% or greater.

Hawaii is also one of 12 states where the share of jobs for workers with a high school diploma or less in 2031 is projected to be 30% or less.

Health care is the sector expected to grow the most in Hawaii in the decade culminating in 2031 — rising to 74,000 jobs from 58,000, a 28% increase, the report said.

Community services and the arts is second, projected to grow 16%, to 22,000 jobs, while careers in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — is third with 14% growth, to 33,000 jobs.

Two sectors in Hawaii are projected in the report with decreases by 2031: food and personal services, down 6% to 117,000 jobs; and education, down 2% to 41,000 jobs.

Pay rises with education

Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, said in the release that as jobs become more competitive, “the type of skill sets required becomes more vast and expansive, (and) they do need a more prepared and educated workforce.”

Hawaii efforts underway to align education providers with future workforce needs include a “Hawai‘i Graduates for Hawai‘i’s Future” initiative by the Hawaii P-20 Council, a group of education, business and community leaders. The UH Strategic Plan 2023-2029 lists “Meet Hawaii’s workforce needs of today and tomorrow” among its four imperatives. The state Board of Education’s Stra­tegic Plan for 2023-2029 includes among its 10 goals that “all students graduate high school prepared for college and career success and community and civic engagement.”

The Georgetown report also sounds the alarm about widening gaps in economies and earnings. By 2031, U.S. jobs in the managerial and professional economy will be held overwhelmingly by highly educated workers, the report said. “This is leading to a widening economic divide between those who have postsecondary education and training and those who do not.”

Schatz said the Georgetown report points to the important role that higher education can play in improving the quality of life for people in Hawaii. “It’s not only for the good of our collective state, it’s about the impact higher education can have on an individual, as it is, by far, the best way to boost economic mobility,” he said.

A report in January from the UH Economic Research Organization found significant financial benefits for holders of a UH degree: Lifetime earnings for bachelor’s degree holders, for instance, are projected at $2.8 million — 27% higher than earnings for those who exited their college program without a degree.

The Georgetown report said the chasm is even wider when comparing bachelor’s degree holders with those who earned only a high school diploma. “Of course, exceptions to these general rules always exist, but someone with a bachelor’s degree (but no graduate degree) earns an average of 75 percent more than a person with no more education than a high school diploma,” the report said. “Not going to college at all costs the average individual more than half a million dollars in potential earnings over a lifetime.”

State jobs forecast for 2031

A new report outlines how the 624,000 jobs projected in the year 2031 in Hawaii will break out by educational requirements:

Educational level 2031 jobs Share of jobs

– Less than high school 30,000 5%

– High school diploma 157,000 25%

– Some college, no degree 134,000 21%

– Associate’s degree 76,000 12%

– Bachelor’s degree 158,000 25%

– Graduate degree 69,000 11%

– Percentages do not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce