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Editorial: Laboring to find job market of future
Finding work that wont be sent overseas or filled by machines is right in our hands
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Of the places in America this Labor Day weekend where work is both valued and available, Hall County ranks high on the list.

Not only does Hall boast of the state’s lowest unemployment rate of 4.6 percent, it ranks 10th in the nation for the highest percentage change in the number of residents with jobs, and 20th the nation for the highest increase in average weekly wages between the end of 2014 and 2015 (7.4 percent), according to the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The conclusion there would be that if you live here and don’t have a job, you’re not trying hard enough. But that’s a snap judgment that wouldn’t tell the whole story, particularly when many middle-class Americans are struggling to keep good jobs.

Jobless numbers don’t reflect the changing nature of work, particularly for those who have stopped looking or have taken part-time, temporary or lesser-paying jobs, sometimes by choice but often because there is no other option. Many younger workers, in particular, now hold two or more positions rather than punch a clock or check in at a desk. Though they may earn enough in salary and tips to live on, they often lack health insurance and other benefits available to full-time workers.

This transience has keep most people busy and jobless numbers low, but it doesn’t draw a complete picture of a job market in transition and an economy not yet running on full throttle.

Amid this shift, political candidates still promise a fanciful return to the days when good-paying blue-collar jobs provided a comfortable living. They vow to bring back manufacturing jobs that have been shuffled beyond U.S. borders, as if a grand federal decree can force GM, Ford and Chrysler to make all their SUVs in Detroit rather than in Mexico and Canada.

Even if those plants did return, they won’t provide as many jobs as they once did, as high-tech automation relies more on robots than workers to build pickups on assembly lines. But robots don’t vote, so promising to restore economic glory days that are likely gone forever is straight out of the Campaign 101 playbook.

Nevertheless, candidates from both parties agree the American middle-class needs a boost in changing times. While financial wizards pile up assets in a bull market, average workers paying more for nearly everything but gasoline are struggling to keep up. Who’s to blame and how to fix it remain in dispute, but growing the middle class and the jobs it needs is a common goal.

The job market today is a giant doughnut that provides good positions for those who are highly educated or very skilled, and also for those at the bottom of the labor force in manual tasks such as hospitality, construction and farm workers, mostly filled by immigrants. Many in-between are stuck in the hole where jobs the middle-class needs are becoming harder to find.

A CareerBuilder study shows that jobs on the upper and lower ends of the income scale are expected to grow at a 5 percent rate, while those in the middle are forecast for only 3 percent growth.

So in an era when finding work is a challenge, a wise strategy is needed. Those who leave high school and wander off to college without a specific career plan likely are doomed to fill coffee cups when they graduate. These days, figuring out what to do when you “grow up” is a decision that can’t be put off until it’s too late.

But through this gloomy vista, there are professions offering hope for those lost in no-man’s land. The key is to find jobs that can’t be shipped overseas or undermined by technology, those that require skilled hands and know-how, and that aren’t likely to disappear any time soon.

Technical trades rank high on that list of jobs with growth potential. Schools like Lanier Tech and others offer training in professions that lead to good-paying, long-term trades and solid careers, and without piling up a fortune in college loan debts. Such jobs that teach high skill levels employers seek are a clear path toward a middle-class resurgence in a world built around technology and automation.

Welders, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, mechanics and technicians who manage those working robots require specific training and a willingness to work hard, but with tangible rewards. Not only do those jobs pay well, they are stable and permanent. People will always need their drains cleared, their homes wired, their locks installed and their transmissions serviced. Such workers can’t be downsized by machines or someone sitting in a call center half a globe away.

Other professions worth pursuing are those that offer hope in human form. We can’t imagine a world without nurses and health professionals to administer health needs with warm hands and caring hearts. Or teachers who take cold curriculum lessons and patiently and lovingly tailor them to students in ways no computer can. Or police officers and firefighters who brave danger daily to protect residents and their homes. These jobs will never be doomed to obsolescence by economic changes that render such skills useless.

This Labor Day, we salute and respect those professionals who make things, fix things, heal us, teach us and keep us safe, and all those who train them to do so. For those still looking to find their way in the shifting sands of today’s job market, they offer callings that are meaningful and noble and are worth a lifetime’s investment.

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