While only a small share of workers in the U.S. have experienced strong wage growth in recent years, the demand for this subset of workers appears to be intensifying, and employers may find it increasingly difficult to attract enough qualified professionals to fill these roles, a recent analysis of the job market by recruitment website Indeed indicated.

The goal of the study was to determine which jobs in the U.S. have shown strong wage growth and offer competitive salaries using the most recent available data, including aggregated and anonymized data from the website on jobs posted from March 1, 2015 to March 1, 2016; as well as data from other sources, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

To identify “opportunity jobs,” researchers analyzed BLS U.S. Standard Occupational Classifications data from 2014 (the most recent data available), which cover every type of work performed for pay or profit, and break down the workplace into 800 occupations. To qualify as an opportunity job, an occupation had to demonstrate two qualities: increasing purchasing power, or salary growth greater than 25.3% from 2004 to 2014, after adjusting for inflation; and a relatively high level of pay, or an average salary higher than $57,700 in 2014.

The results of the analysis indicated that of the 800 occupations in the U.S., only 170 have shown wage growth of more than 25% from 2004 to 2014 and offer an average salary higher than $57,700. The findings further indicated that the share of the workforce who hold these opportunity jobs has increased only slightly over the past 11 years, to 16% in 2014 from 13% in 2004.

The study also found, however, that these roles are in high demand among employers, making up 35% of all job postings on the website; and that for 71.3% of these jobs employer demand outstrips job seeker interest. By comparison, employer demand outstrips job seeker interest for just 54.1% of non-opportunity jobs.

The opportunity jobs for which demand is highest, measured by numbers of job postings, were identified as registered nurses, sales managers, miscellaneous computer occupations, miscellaneous managers, and accountants and auditors. The findings indicated that 92% of all opportunity jobs are concentrated in the following five categories: health care practitioners and technical, management, computer and mathematical, business and financial operations, and architecture and engineering.

The analysis also showed that education is a key differentiator for these roles, with 73.9% of opportunity jobs requiring a four-year college degree, and most of the remaining job types requiring that the candidate have a specific skill or certification. By contrast, the share of all jobs requiring a four-year degree has increased only slightly, from 23% in 2004 to 27% in 2014.

Researchers emphasized, however, that having a degree does not guarantee membership in the fortunate minority at the top of the polarized labor market. For example, they noted that speech language pathologist roles, which are opportunity jobs, are much harder to fill than lawyer positions, a job that is not meeting the wage growth requirements for opportunity jobs, as an excess of lawyers has flattened the legal job market.

The results of the analysis of the job postings data also suggested that, compared to other jobs, opportunity jobs require not just relatively advanced technical and problem-solving skills, but high levels of social skills and emotional intelligence. Because these positions often involve dealing with people, opportunity jobs were shown to have a lower average risk of automation than other jobs: just 8.8% of the opportunity jobs posted, but 45.7% of the other jobs posted, are considered to be at high risk of automation.

Noting that there is a gap between talent supply and employer demand as measured by click to postings mismatch across the U.S., researchers recommended that employers develop strategies for attracting highly qualified workers, such as recruiting talent from states that are talent-rich, or allowing employees to work remotely. They also advised employers to consider training existing employees to take on skilled roles.

From Benefit Trends Newsletter, Volume 59, Issue 9

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