College graduates often out-earn those without a college degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that American workers with a bachelor's degree make $1,248 per week on average while workers with just a high school degree earn closer to $746 per week on average. Put another way, college graduates earn 67% more.
But recently, there has been a renewed emphasis on helping workers without college degrees learn new skills to increase their earnings — without going back to school full-time. One of those efforts is being organized by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, which estimates that workers without a bachelor's degree could earn $15,000 more per year through upskilling.
"At the Fed, we've also been studying ways to get people into what we call opportunity occupations — jobs that pay the median wage or better and that don't require a four-year college degree," said Patrick Harker, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve and former president of the University of Delaware in a recent speech. "What's truly exciting is that our researchers have found that many workers already possess the skills they need to increase their income — all they might need is a little additional training.
He continues, "For transitions connecting the most similar occupations identified in the study, the average bump in wages was almost $15,000 — real money."
The Fed's new "Occupational Mobility Explorer" allows workers to search for high-paying job transitions in their metro area and compare skills needed at different jobs.
For instance, the explorer shows that in Cleveland, Ohio construction cost estimators have similar skills as construction managers, but that construction managers earn 62% more, on average.
And that in Atlanta, Georgia teacher assistants, who earn just $21,410 in the area, could earn 209% more by upskilling and getting a job teaching in a technical school or a high school.
Some of these transitions may require earning a certificate or credential.
"Many skills today are gained through a variety of short-term programs that do not lead to degrees but can provide marketable new skills," stressed Harker. "These courses can be as short as two months, and students — many of whom are in their mid-career and are looking to retool — gain a marketable new skill."
The Philadelphia Fed's research is not isolated. A recent report conducted by nonprofit Opportunity@Work found that as many as 30 million U.S. workers without college diplomas already have the skills necessary to earn 70% more.
And experts like Jose Ortiz Jr., CEO of the NYC Employment and Training Coalition, the largest city-based workforce development system in the country, say that non-traditional skills training will be an essential part of the country's economic recovery.
"Now is the time to double down on reskilling, addressing those skills that are needed to get folks into middle-skill jobs that are going to allow for them to have significantly higher wages," says Ortiz. "And I don't think there is a better time than ever before for us to really be considering the role that workforce development can play into that, given the fact that we have millions more unemployed than we did than we did this time last year."