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Mitchell: Jobs of Future Will Go to Prepared People, Regions

In 2008 when the global economy imploded, experts predicted there would be no quick bounce-back. Perhaps more significantly, those who study this stuff nonstop said that when the U.S. economy did start clicking again, we might not recognize it.
Now comes a report in USA TODAY validating that vision.
Out with the old; in with the new.
The takeaway for Mississippi is that unless this state’s citizens, its leaders and policymakers get busy, think smart and longer-range, the state stands to lose ground. The other side of the coin is that if the Legislature and others are paying attention, the state can position itself for significant gain. Mississippi can, to paraphrase former Gov. Haley Barbour, “hitch up our britches.”
Sadly, there are not overwhelming signs this is happening.
Here’s the context: Workforce projections by Economic Modeling Specialists Intl., reported in the national newspaper indicate 1.8 million new high-skill jobs will be created in the next three years — 27 percent of all new jobs — and each will require, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree.
Now 2008 may have been a watershed moment, but it’s certainly true that the jobs picture in America had been changing for decades.
For one thing, especially significant in Mississippi, the mechanization of farming has steadily been reducing employment in agriculture for decades.
For another, if Congress had affirmatively voted about 1980 to ship all textile, furniture manufacturing and assorted other low- and medium-skilled jobs overseas, it could not have been done any faster. No one seems willing to admit that federal taxation and regulation, proper or improper, has killed millions of American jobs. But it has. Try buying a pair of shoes made in America. Tupelo was once a global center for making furniture. Today, stores in Tupelo sell particle board TV stands made in Vietnam.
But that’s spilled milk. Done and done. Yes, some assembly-type jobs returning. The sector is not dead. It’s just that Economic Modeling says they are not the future.
What is?
So-called STEM jobs will be big. The acronym is for science, technology, engineering and math. And, according to the report, the new positions will compose 38 percent of the total and be the highest paying.
What else?
Computer engineers, data analysts (people who can tell you what numbers mean), software developers and petroleum engineers (now that America is getting back into the fossil fuel business) will be big.
There will be high demand for niche jobs — interpreters and genetic counselors for example — but not buckets of them. There will also be new positions for teachers (grade school and college), business managers and accountants.
Wrap a ribbon around the list and what do we see?
Most require more than a high school degree.
Mississippi and other states are in a 20-year pattern of flipping the cost of higher education from public funds to private endowments plus tuition. That’s probably not going to change. But steps could be taken that involve a little money and a lot of nerve. Programs could be merged and consolidated — but most importantly updated — to match the marketplace. Yes, there is room for learning for learning’s sake. No traditional degree programs need to be tossed. But centers of learning that are also in touch with the economy — ramping up STEM, expanding physician assistant and four-year nursing degrees — will prosper.
Another on-going trend is young job seekers moving toward the bright lights. Seattle, Portland, metro areas in Texas and even Utah are going to be hot spots for employment. The study says the “old” centers — New York, Boston, Los Angeles — will be fine, but perhaps there’s room for up-and-coming communities.
Jackson? The Gulf Coast? Southaven?
Yes, definitely.
But these cities and others, even those that are smaller, must stop any drift, clean up their act and elect or hire people who not only see 10 to 20 years into the future but also know how to leverage benefits for communities.
To do nothing is to sit at the station and watch the train pass by.
Often, mainstream Mississippi prefers to complain about poverty and the level of dependency and even the amount of fraud in government aid programs. Entitlement laws are not likely to be repealed, so perhaps a better solution is to stop complaining and put people in position where they have alternatives to gaming the system for sustenance.
The best jobs of tomorrow will go where the people are prepared, eager and ready. Decisions and actions made today by local and state officials will, for better or worse, either limit or enhance opportunities.
Charlie Mitchell mugshot 2013Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or e-mail cmitchell43@yahoo.com.

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