This resource summarizes findings from an analysis of nearly four million American job seekers’ resumes in Burning Glass’ database on the career advancement prospects of people looking for middle-skill jobs. It highlights the types of education credentials and occupations in the health care, business, IT, and manufacturing industries that offer the most reliable opportunities for financial stability and economic advancement. 

The report also describes career advancement prospects of job seekers entering middle-skill jobs.  Middle-skill jobs comprise about 53 percent of the American labor market and have historically paid a living wage and provided a path for career and economic advancement with only minimal additional education beyond high school.  In recent years the prospects for workers in middle-skill jobs have changed significantly with some credentials no longer leading to occupations on career pathways.

To highlight the changes, a new way of classifying and comparing the advancement potential of middle-skill occupations was developed. The "Opportunity Framework" identifies three types of entry-level jobs that provide different career possibilities: lifetime jobs, springboard jobs, and static jobs. Jobs within the three categories are further assessed to determine the degree of job and career stability, advancement, and pay across the middle-skill occupations.  The resource notes that workers possessing both people and project management experience, skills, and credentials have the most rapid career advancement across all industries.

Major Findings & Recommendations

Education and workforce development leaders and policymakers can improve career training to increase economic advancement for low-income and other underserved Americans.

Training providers should:

  • apply the Opportunity Framework when developing training programs to evaluate whether the training offered prepares students for lifetime, springboard, or static jobs,
  • tailor programs to better facilitate worker advancement over time including the development of bridge programs which specifically helps workers in static jobs to move to lifetime or springboard jobs in the same field,
  • design curricula with advancement skills built in such as stackable micro-credentials, to guide students along a career advancement pathway,
  • leverage industry-recognized certifications to offer shorter, more efficient, and more impactful programs than traditional degree offerings,
  • use the framework to target business and employer engagement efforts and work with employers to develop customized advancement opportunities linked to training for workers in static or springboard jobs, and
  • Encourage their Academic and Career Counselors to base career planning on the strategies students and job seekers will need to transition into springboard and lifetime occupations.

Education, workforce and economic development policy makers are encouraged to use student and career outcomes data and the Opportunity Framework to

  • perceive which programs and pathways offer substantial opportunities for students and workers then allocate state and local resources to support the programs that result in maximum career stability, advancement and pay,
  • understand the potential benefits to pursuing a specific company or sector, and to better make a case for how the local workforce can best meet these workforce needs, and
  • build career outcomes data systems to ensure that higher education and workforce development programs apply these data to inform program design and evaluate program effectiveness.