The State Of Overqualified Workers

The State Of Overqualified Workers

A college education is a popular credential in Minnesota, but it isn’t needed to perform most jobs.

Steve Hine, who holds a Ph.D. in economics, isn’t anti-education. But as the research director of Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), he’s in possession of data that not many college professors would like to see.

Hine led a recent study that determined that “two-thirds of the jobs in Minnesota require a high school education or less.” That conclusion is sharply at odds with a 2013 Georgetown University study, which estimated that 74 percent of Minnesota jobs would require “some level of postsecondary education by 2020.”

In an interview with TCB, Hine says, “Ideally we want our population to get the education that is necessary for the jobs that are available.” The study shows that 34 percent of Minnesota workers have earned bachelor’s degrees or higher, but only 22 percent of jobs in Minnesota require that education level.

That gap is what economists call “mal-employment,” which is a technical term for people who are overeducated. Those people cannot find jobs in their fields, so they take ones at lower skill levels. For example, a four-year liberal arts graduate may be working as a barista or retail sales associate.

Hine argues that DEED has a good handle on the type of educational requirements that are really in demand, because it received 31,701 survey responses from employers between 2011 and 2015. Since 2000, Hine says, DEED has been surveying employers semi-annually about vacancies and educational requirements.

“If you want jobs that pay well and are involved in scientific research or high-level management, you are going to have to get that college education,” Hine says. However, he explains, “That is not to say that anybody who gets that level of education is going to be able to get those good-paying jobs. It is not a ‘Build it and they will come’ situation.”

Hine recently conducted research about Minnesota’s job base and desired educational backgrounds. “Providing better data on what the true educational requirements of our workforce are can help align how much we should spend, both privately and publicly, on higher education,” Hine says. Otherwise, he warns, students may be going deeply into debt for degrees they don’t need for available jobs.