Building Back Better with Better Career Options for Low Wage Workers

As we continue to “get back to work” as the pandemic subsides, we need to do a better job of identifying employment opportunities that propel people to productive and rewarding careers.  One reason for our current worker shortage is that many jobs are lousy: offering low pay, uncertain hours, and drudgery.  Even worse, many of them are dead-ends that don’t really offer promising long-term opportunities.

Given these dynamics, I was excited to see a new Rework America Alliance study that examines job progressions among the 106 million Americans without a college degree.  The study seeks to identify which types of jobs offer the best opportunities for career progression by low-wage workers.  

This was a massive research exercise which looked at 800 different occupations and the job histories of 29 million people.  Ultimately, the researchers identified 77 “Gateway Occupations” that offer good opportunities for low-wage workers to move into better jobs and more rewarding careers.  You can find a listing of some of the occupations here and in the full report which is available with registration.  They include jobs such as computer support specialists, food service managers, paralegals, first-line supervisors, and sales representatives.  

These occupations share several characteristics. These sectors are growing, so new opportunities are regularly emerging.  In addition, they offer multiple career paths and rely heavily on interpersonal skills, which can be developed via experience as opposed to formal education.  And, they offer opportunities to gain new skills and competencies along the way.

Our task ahead is to help returning workers identify and capture these new opportunities.  The study offers lots of excellent recommendations on that front as well.  This research is well worth a deeper review, and should serve as an important resource for workforce development professionals around the US.