What Are the Skills Required to Obtain a Good Job?

An Analysis of Labor Markets, Occupational Features, and Skill Training for the Youth ChalleNGe Program

by Kathryn A. Edwards, Melanie A. Zaber, Daniel Schwam

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Research Questions

  1. What makes a job good?
  2. What are good middle-skills goal occupations for ChalleNGe cadets to aspire to?
  3. Which skills are most common among the goal occupations?
  4. How can these skills be acquired in the ChalleNGe context?

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe (ChalleNGe) program provides a positive intervention for youth ages 16 to 18 who are experiencing difficulty in traditional high school. The program includes 40 locations (sites) in 31 states and territories. About 250,000 young people have taken part in the ChalleNGe program, and nearly 190,000 have completed the program.

ChalleNGe is a residential, quasi-military program. Participants, called cadets, spend five and a half months onsite in the Residential Phase, in which they are immersed in daily classes, exercise, and other activities. The next 12 months, in the Post-Residential Phase, cadets work with mentors who help them with school or job search and work. Many ChalleNGe sites are interested in providing additional job training during the Residential Phase but face space, budget, and personnel constraints.

In this report, the authors provide background on the middle-skills labor market — the jobs for workers with more than a high school education but less than a bachelor's degree. They discuss which occupations are in the middle-skills labor market and the training and education required for those occupations. They then identify a set of occupations, which they call the goal occupations, that are high-paying, attainable, and growth-oriented. Using occupational characteristics, the authors identify a set of common skills shared among the goal occupations. The report is intended to provide background on the middle-skills labor market for sites interested in occupational training and describe how to incorporate skills that are common among good middle-skills occupations into the ChalleNGe curriculum.

Key Findings

A good job is attainable, growth-oriented, and high-paying, and the authors identified more than 100

  • A total of 102 middle-skills goal occupations met authors' criteria of being attainable, growth-oriented, and high-paying.

The goal occupations had many common skills or features already integrated into the ChalleNGe program

  • Math, English language, and reading comprehension are a key part of ChalleNGe's educational curriculum and are important skills in the goal occupations.
  • ChalleNGe's design — a voluntary residential program in a quasi-military setting — draws on and reinforces personal characteristics associated with executing skills in the goal occupations, such as cooperation, self-control, initiative, stress tolerance, independence, and persistence.

There are six areas in which ChalleNGe might want to consider building on its investment

  • Many of the important elements for the goal occupations center around oral and written communication and expression.
  • Many of the goal occupations draw from fields in which teamwork and communication are important, and many of the elements reflect a team-based work environment.
  • Basic logic, reasoning, and problem solving are important to the performance of many occupations, as are critical thinking, complex problem solving, and inductive and deductive reasoning.
  • While some of the goal occupations involve some hands-on physical labor, the focus of many others is on producing information.
  • Using information, facts, and data to make decisions is important to many of the goal occupations.
  • The use and knowledge of computers is important to many goal occupations.

Recommendations

  • ChalleNGe and Job ChalleNGe staff should consider middle skills occupations as they choose areas of emphasis within their programs.
  • While the programs already invest heavily in many important and relevant skills, additional emphasis in proficiencies that are relevant for many middle skills jobs will help to ensure ChalleNGe and Job ChalleNGe participants are prepared to find good jobs. These areas include oral and written expression, being a part of and communicating across a team, logic and reasoning, information expertise, judgment and decisionmaking, and computer familiarity.
  • Such emphasis could occur throughout the ChalleNGe and Job ChalleNGe programs. For example, working on written expression would most naturally occur in the classroom, but team-based communication could occur during many different activities. There are many ways to incorporate these areas throughout program activities.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    The "Middle Skills" Pathway to Good Jobs — High-Paying Jobs That Do Not Require a College Degree

  • Chapter Two

    What Is a Good Job? Part 1 — How Good Jobs Are Identified in Existing Sources

  • Chapter Three

    What Is a Good Job? Part 2 — How Good Jobs Are Identified in Our Analyses

  • Chapter Four

    Finding 1 — The Goal Occupations ("Good Jobs") for Workers Without a College Degree

  • Chapter Five

    Finding 2 — The Skills and Capabilities Common to the Goal Occupations ("Good Jobs")

  • Chapter Six

    Finding 3 — Current and Potential Investments That ChalleNGe Can Make in Skills and Capabilities for Cadets

  • Appendix A

    Assessment of Occupation Families

  • Appendix B

    Regional Variation

  • Appendix C

    Subgroups and Elements of O*NET Categories

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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