Tapping Homegrown Talent
by Luke Greiner
Many Greater Minnesota students say they would prefer to remain in their hometowns after graduation, but perceptions about employment opportunities sometimes get in the way.
Perceptions matter when it comes to what rural youth think about their communities and local economic opportunities. Perhaps surprisingly, students appear to favor staying in their communities after graduating if they can secure a “good paying job.” Seventy-five percent of students surveyed in southwestern Minnesota indicated they would stay in their area if they had an acceptable job prospect (see Figure 1).
This is excellent news for rural communities and companies. The challenge is educating students and parents about the real opportunities that exist locally. What happens when a student goes off to college and returns to find that relatively few jobs require college? Does the wage they are willing to work for change after investing in higher education?
With few people moving to the region, Greater Minnesota is largely dependent on high school graduates flowing into the workforce.
Using survey data from DEED’s participation in the Southwest Minnesota Career Expo in October 2017, we can gain valuable insight into the perceptions of the next generation of workers. It’s likely the views and influencers of the students in southwestern Minnesota are the same for students across Minnesota. Roughly 2,000 10th-grade students in the southwestern region took the survey.
When 10th-grade students were asked about their plans after high school, they responded as follows:
- 61 percent indicated they plan to go to a university.
- Almost one in 12 said they plan to go into the military, but statistically only about one out of 100 actually do.
- Only 4 percent planned to join the workforce right after high school, yet SLEDS data show that 26 percent actually do.
Figure 2 illustrates 10th-grade students’ plans for post-graduation.
There are many factors that students consider when deciding on their educational or career paths, but one influencer stands out: parents.
Figure 3 shows that nearly two-thirds of students rely on family to help inform educational and career decisions. This strong correlation between family (parents) guidance and student plans highlights a possible disconnect between actual opportunities that exist in Greater Minnesota and what parents think is the best way for their student to achieve success.
Enrolling in college can be an excellent way to achieve a successful career. Clearly students (by way of parents) also strongly perceive college as a way to get a higher paying job (see Figure 4).
Two-thirds of students who responded are primarily interested in college to boost their earnings potential. It’s likely this response is a reflection of their parents’ views on the benefits or necessity of college to get a good job.
Make no mistake about a college degree: The data clearly support numerous benefits enjoyed by many college graduates. But enrolling in college, particularly a four-year institution, is not the only or even best option for every student.
Roughly 69 percent of jobs in Greater Minnesota do not require education beyond a high school diploma. Employment projections indicate that trend is unlikely to change over at least the next decade. A significant number of these jobs are in entry-level occupations with low pay and low or no educational requirements, but for many new workers they represent the first step in gaining valuable skills that lead to better, higher-paying jobs. Furthermore, Minnesota has roughly 230,000 jobs with a median annual wage greater than $50,000 per year that do not require college.
Low education, however, is not always synonymous with low skill. Many of the good-paying jobs in Greater Minnesota that typically do not require any type of higher education do require a specific skillset gained through apprenticeships or on-the-job training.
With so many students planning to attend college and relatively few jobs in Greater Minnesota requiring that level of education, it’s reasonable to suspect that well-intentioned parents might be overlooking excellent opportunities in their own backyards that could lead to successful careers for students. Rural Minnesota has excellent jobs for workers of every educational background, but communities miss out when the perception is that only a sliver of the jobs in the area are deemed “good.”
Greater Minnesota is well-positioned to provide students with the jobs they are interested in and passionate about. Over one-quarter of students indicated they were interested in health care and social assistance (see Figure 5). This also happens to be the largest-employing industry in Greater Minnesota, representing 19 percent of all jobs.
There is also an abundance of agricultural jobs that have high wages and low educational requirements in many rural areas of Minnesota. Providing Greater Minnesota youth and their parents with better information about what types of jobs are available in their areas and what the educational requirements are for those jobs can help students plan for their futures and help businesses find the workers they need.
So how well do the plans of 10th-grade students represent what they actually do after high school in Greater Minnesota?
With a full two and one-half years left of high school at the time of the survey, it’s no surprise that many students ended up changing their minds and pursuing other paths. Looking back at higher education enrollment in the fall among the class of 2016:
- 27 percent enrolled at a university.
- 23 percent enrolled at a two-year school.
- 17 percent enrolled in higher education outside of Minnesota.
- 26 percent started working without enrolling in higher education (class of 2015).
We know that over one-fourth of high school graduates join the workforce right after high school. This is problematic not because they aren’t going to college, but rather because they might not have been preparing for the vast majority of jobs that require nothing more than a high school diploma but still require skills. Since only 4 percent of 10th-grade students indicated they plan to join the labor force after completing high school, how well do they know the labor market or skills employers are looking for?
Again, just because a particular job doesn’t require college doesn’t mean that everyone is qualified or has the necessary skills to perform the tasks. Being successful without college in Greater Minnesota takes careful and intentional planning, just like going to college does.
The success of these students and the regional economies across rural Minnesota can improve by aligning educational programming to labor market demand. How students perceive their own local labor market is critical to retaining and attracting qualified workers. With record numbers of job openings and a declining labor force in many rural counties, Greater Minnesota can’t afford to have students misunderstand their economic opportunities within it.