Job Outlook to 2026 by Educational Requirement

The first blog in our series on the 2016 to 2026 employment outlook focused on how an aging population is expected to constrain job growth. The second focused on how the occupational job structure is expected to continue to gradually shift. Those shifts have implications for the educational requirements of the labor force, which is the focus of this blog.

Performance and educational requirements differ from one occupation to another. Some jobs require little experience or education, others extensive experience or education, with a whole range in between. So as the mix of jobs changes, the educational requirements of the labor force also change. Additionally, the requirements to successfully perform the functions of most occupations changes over time as technology and work practices evolve, and other factors impact the way the functions of a job are performed.

About 77 percent of jobs in Maine are in occupations that have a “usual education requirement” that falls within one of seven levels of attainment: high school or equivalency; some college, but no degree; post-secondary non-degree award; associate’s degree; bachelor’s degree; master’s degree; or doctoral or professional degree. Non-degree certifications can be achieved through apprenticeship programs, as well as through educational institutions.

Another 23 percent of jobs are in occupations that do not have a usual educational requirement. This does not mean that they are jobs for people who have not graduated from high school. Some of these jobs are available to non-graduates or teens who have not yet graduated, but many more require certain skills or expertise, but there is no “usual” educational path. This includes some occupations that pay well and in which many incumbents have postsecondary education or training, extensive experience, or specialized skills, such as many jobs in the arts, construction, entertainment and athletics, food preparation, and protective service.

For many occupations there are exceptions to the usual requirement; for many others there are strict requirements. People of all levels of educational attainment may become managers, though the usual requirement for most management occupations is some form of degree. Some registered nurses have an associate’s degree, though most have a bachelor’s, which is preferred by hospitals today. For other occupations an individual must complete a specific educational program and pass qualifying exams to work in the profession, such as physicians and lawyers.

Shifting Education Requirements of Jobs

Reflecting the changing mix of jobs outlined in the second blog, in the decade through 2026 the number of jobs in occupations that require a degree or a postsecondary non-degree award is expected to increase by 7,100 (3.2 percent). That gain will mostly be offset by a decline of 7,000 (1.6 percent) jobs that do not require a degree or postsecondary award. As the first chart indicates, the largest net job gain is expected in occupations that require a bachelor’s degree, followed by occupations that require a postsecondary non-degree award, master’s degree, associate’s degree, and doctoral or professional degree. The largest net job decline is expected in occupations that require a high school diploma, followed by occupations that require some college, but no degree.

Despite differences in growth and decline, the structure of employment by education requirement is expected to change only marginally, as seen in the second chart. Even though the number of jobs in occupations that require a high school diploma or equivalent is expected to decline, they will remain the largest in number, falling from 40 to 39 percent of all jobs. The number of jobs that typically require a bachelor’s degree is expected to increase from 19 to 20 percent of all jobs, and the number requiring more than a bachelor’s is expected to rise from 4.6 to just 4.8 percent of the total.

Job Openings

The expected net decline of 7,000 jobs in occupations that do not require postsecondary education does not mean we expect that many people will lose their jobs. The flow of young people into the labor force, older people into retirement, as well as individuals advancing their education or experience to move up the career ladder more than offsets those net declines. In fact, three quarters of all job openings – nearly 56,000 per year – are expected in occupations that do not require more than a high school diploma.

The reason there will be so many openings in occupations in which the total number of jobs is expected decline is that there is a strong correlation between the earnings and education requirements of jobs on-the-one-hand, and turnover rates on the other. Occupations with high education requirements that generally pay well tend to have an older, more established workforce that has low rates of turnover. Occupations with limited education requirements that generally offer relatively low pay tend to have a younger, less established workforce that has higher rates of turnover and many more job openings, which can be seen in the last chart.

There have been many claims in recent years of the dramatic shifts around the education requirements of the workforce in the years ahead. It is true that technology is disrupting industries, creating new fields of work and making others obsolete, and is changing how functions are performed and who does them. It is not true that the level of educational requirements of the workforce is likely to change dramatically in just a decade. Rather, the changes in the mix of jobs and their education requirements are likely to continue to be gradual, as they have been for many years.

The flipside of that statement is that an increasing share of jobs are in occupations that require a specific degree or credential. Healthcare is expected to continue to be the fastest growing sector of the economy. Many healthcare-related occupations not only require a degree or credential, but a specific degree or credential. A degree in economics, history, or arts does not qualify someone to be registered nurse, physical therapist, or dental hygienist. The increased technical nature of many occupations means that the educational program of study is becoming as important as the level of credential or degree attainment.

Finally, a rising share of middle-wage jobs are in occupations that usually require education beyond high school. Middle-wage jobs performing routine functions that have traditionally been available to people with a high school diploma will continue to be eliminated by automation and technology applications. To maintain a middle-wage standard of living, many people will need to advance their education.
This has been a very general description of one aspect of our occupational employment projections to 2026. Detail on over 600 individual occupations, including expected growth or decline, openings, and wages is available at Users can generate charts or tables for occupations by number of expected job openings, rate of change, or net change by education requirement, and can look at the outlook for individual occupations or groups.

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