Hispanics are the fastest growing component of America’s workforce. According to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 47 million new workers will enter the workforce by 2050, and of those, it is estimated that 37.6 million, or 80 percent, will be Hispanic. Currently, Hispanic workers comprise approximately 15 percent of the total US workforce, but BLS estimates indicate this number will swell to 18.6 percent by 2020, and increase to 30 percent by 2050. However, labor and economic experts are concerned that this labor pool is lacking the technical skills needed in many industries.
It is hardly news that the jobs of the 21st century require a 21st century education. In an effort of find qualified workers to fill available jobs, many employers are partnering with local community colleges and training institutes, offering programs that teach specific, marketable job skills. College graduates with degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related disciplines are in demand and all predictions indicate the need for health care professionals is on the rise. However, when it comes to the post-secondary education these professions demand, Hispanics lag seriously behind other groups, and this lack of educational attainment is cause for concern.
In a survey of Latinos over the age of 25, over 80 percent are lacking four-year college degrees, a situation that has the potential to have serious, long-term implications in the US economy. If Hispanic workers don’t have the education or skill sets to fill higher paying jobs, the growing income disparity will widen.
“You can’t meet our national goals and our workforce needs without having a tactical plan for Latinos,” says the vice president of policy and research for Excelencia in Education, a research organization that focuses on education of Hispanics. “This is just a factual statement given what the current population numbers are.”
In June 2012, President Obama authorized a policy that protects undocumented workers who were brought to the US before the age of 16 and are not older than 30, opening the door for these youngsters to attend US schools and apply for work permits. But because higher education is low on the radar of many Hispanic households, experts are concerned that this potential pool of workers could slip through the cracks. Finding ways to reach this population with a pro-education message is crucial.
“In a growing economy we will need extra workers,” says a senior research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center. “And more than half of the new workers employers will work with will be Latino. Without a four-year college degree, they are going to have a difficult time in those upper-echelon managerial jobs.”
But Pews research shows some positive signs. In 2006, Hispanics accounted for 11 percent of all college enrollments, but that number increased to a 16.5 percent share in 2011. The number of Hispanics awarded associates degrees doubled between 2000 and 2010, and high school completion rates among Hispanics hit 76 percent in 2011 -- the highest percentage on record. And all the stakeholders involved hope this is the beginning of a trend. Workers who have the skills to fill well-paying jobs are an important component in growing the US economy.
“If you don’t reach out to the Hispanic consumer, you cannot make it,” says the Ford Motor Company’s manager in charge of Hispanic communications. “From the iPhone to the Android, from cars to houses to sausages, that is the reality. It is going to be a huge population.”