By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
Tell it to the kids not fortunate enough to get a degree. Aside from construction gigs, the government predicts non-service-sector jobs will continue to stagnate. That means more manufacturing workers will have to take lower-paid McJobs with few if any benefits, and often no union protection. Their best hope is training or retraining for more specialized jobs in areas like radiography.
One such worker is 29-year-old Jeff Olson, of Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Laid off when his employer moved its aluminum cookware plant to Mexico last August, he could at first glance be a poster boy for the losers in the modern economy. Far from it. He says he was bored anyway, and had mastered every part of the assembly process. Now, under a federal program that helps retrain laid-off manufacturing workers, he's back in school, and plans to start training this fall in biomedical electronics. He looks forward to fixing medical equipment in hospitals, doing something more challenging and different every day. "To be honest, it's probably one of the best things that ever happened to me," said Olson. "I was going to go back to school anyway. This took me from point A to point B in less time than it would have taken me if I had done it all by myself."
But Olson knows he's in the minority. He estimates that 40 percent of his former co-workers are still unemployed or have taken lower-paying jobs, and he knows of at least a couple for whom the layoffs were devastating. What makes him different? He's clearly ambitious and bright, but he's also highly flexible, with no family to support. He's a labor economist's model 21st-century worker: smart, retrainable, mobile.
Median expected salaries in growth industries, as calculated by salary.com
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In a rapidly shifting job market, the best strategy may be to focus on what sparks your interestand then hedge your bets against the BLS projections. "You don't want to train in something that you're not that interested in in the first place, that you're struggling to get through, and then it backfires on you and you don't even get a job out of it," says Jim Zephirin, senior counselor at the Milwaukee Area Technical College. "Holy cow, how bad is that, you know?"