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When it comes to discussions about economic opportunity, there is a tendency to lump all middle-skill jobs together. However, not all middle-skill jobs are the same, and not all provide a chance to get ahead.

A new report – released today – from Burning Glass Technologies, Jobs for the Future (JFF), and Lumina Foundation examined nearly 4 million resumes of middle-skill workers, making this the most extensive analysis of resume data to date. This report uses profiles of different workers to assess how middle-skill careers progress. Which jobs can support a family? Which offer room for advancement? Which ones turn out to be dead ends?

Why are Middle-Skill Jobs Important?

Long hailed as the foundation of financial stability and economic mobility, middle-skill jobs typically pay a living wage, starting today at roughly $15 per hour. They require some education beyond high school—a two-year associate’s degree or a short-term credential—but less than a bachelor’s degree. These jobs make up more than half of the U.S. labor market, about 54 percent. And they are still the jobs that people in all parts of the country count on to improve their lives.

A Breakdown of Middle-Skill Jobs

There are three types of middle-skill jobs:

  • Lifetime jobs – These are careers in themselves, such as Dental Hygienists. They pay well and offer long-term stability.
  • Springboard jobs – These jobs offer career advancement. Workers in these jobs often progress within the same field to occupations with higher pay.
  • Static jobs – These roles offer lower pay compared to other middle-skill jobs and have low potential for advancement.

Which Occupations Fall Into Each Job Type?

In the report, we analyze occupations in four key fields–Business, IT, Health Care, and Manufacturing–to see which occupations fall under lifetime jobs, springboard jobs, and static jobs.

According to the report, occupations in Business and IT tend to offer springboard jobs such as Bookkeeping, HR Specialists, and Computer Network Support Specialists. These types of jobs have high career stability, which is the likelihood that a jobseeker will be employed in an occupation within the same career area as the starting occupation within five years. Business and IT occupations also offer more opportunities for career advancement than Health Care and Manufacturing.  

Based on the occupations examined in the report, jobs in Health Care and Manufacturing can go either way between lifetime jobs and static jobs.

Health Care occupations such as Dental Hygienists and Radiologic Therapists are typically well-paying careers that employees will have for life, with hourly wages ranging from $21.31 to $34.77, according to the report. However, those working in occupations such as Home Health Aides, Medical Assistants, and Pharmacy Technicians are working in static jobs that offer little room for advancement and only offer hourly wages from $10.54 to $14.71.

In Manufacturing occupations, Machinists and Welding, Soldering, and Brazing Workers, are working in lifetime jobs with an average hourly wage of $18.86. On average, their career stability is significantly higher than their Manufacturing counterparts such as Inspectors, Testers, Operators, and Electromechanical Assemblers.

Further Insights from the Report

The goal of the report is to spark discussion among educators, employers, and workforce professionals about how to improve education and training in ways that more often lead to advancement. As the economy continues its rapid pace of change, it will become more and more important for people from all backgrounds to understand what career opportunities best match with their capabilities—and how to pursue them.

The full report When Is a Job just a Job – and When Can It Launch a Career? Follows the story of four hypothetical friends who enter entry-level positions that will either spark successful lifelong careers or leave them in static jobs. Read the full report to find out how their stories unfold.

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