As the rate of national unemployment in the United States continues to fall alongside a steady rise in average hourly earnings, there is every reason for job seekers nationwide to approach their search with renewed vigor. With many looking to develop their existing skill set and strengthen their position in an increasingly competitive and prosperous job market, it is important to consider the respective value of both academic and non-academic qualifications in 2012.

Academic Qualifications
With the costs of higher education set to rise further in 2012, there is an increasing concern that a gap is beginning to develop between existing graduate skills and the demands of the contemporary job market. This is supported by recent research conducted by the Georgetown University Center, which highlighted that specific graduate groups are experiencing unemployment at a far higher rate than the national average. So while the U.S. economy continues its revival, those with qualifications in architecture, arts and humanities are struggling to find viable and sustainable employment.
The nature of these qualifications may provide a clue as to where the issue lies, and suggest that there are simply too many higher education courses that are being rendered increasingly redundant in today's employment market. While technological advancement has continued to revolutionize both working methods and the needs of employers, college and PhD educations has remained relatively unchanged and focused firmly upon the existing skills of tutors and student mentors. So, rather than equipping graduates with the skills to succeed in thriving industries, a certain percentage of higher educational programs are simply teaching generic and largely irrelevant subject matter.

Non-Academic and Vocational Training
Vocational degrees and career-based training are far more adaptable to an evolving employment market, and more specifically the increasing demand for tailored and relevant work place skills. These learning programs were designed to build on an established foundation of academic knowledge, with a view to developing both transferable and industry relevant expertise. The nation's youth apprenticeship programs provide the best representation of this ethos, whereby additional courses and placements are continually being developed to suit changeable market demands.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides detailed employment projections on which apprenticeships and career-based training programs are developed, and its most recent report gives a clear insight into which industries are set to experience growth between now and 2020. Its findings suggest that healthcare, business services and construction are the sectors that will gain the most jobs during this period, while also revealing that the number of apprenticeship-based employment roles is set to increase by an impressive 22.5% over the next decade.

Creating Wealth and Sustainability
While this would suggest that Career and Technical Education (CTE) provides the best route towards employment in 2012 and beyond, it is important to remember the key role that core academic knowledge plays in job-specific training and sustained individual growth. When you consider this in conjunction with a continually rising graduate application rate, and the fact that about two in 25 U.S. citizens over the age of 25 now boast a master's degree, it is clear that higher education remains a viable option for students.

What is becoming increasingly important is the nature of higher education that an individual pursues, with bachelor degrees in nonspecific subjects no longer able to distinguish job seekers in the current employment market. However, as long as students are willing to pursue the highest possible academic qualifications that relate to targeted and job-specific skills, then they will be afforded access to the highest paid roles in numerous growth sectors including healthcare, financial services and computer science.

The Bottom Line
With CTE courses teaching core industry skills and targeted higher educational programs affording graduates the chance to develop well paid and sustainable careers, it is clear that students should be exposed to the benefits of both in order to maximize their potential. As an increasing number of colleges and universities begin to adapt their academic courses to teach transferable business and technological principles, it appears as though students young and old can look forward to acquiring crucial skills to assist their job search.

For more information, see Hot, High-Paying Career Sectors.

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