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Entering the job market? Your education matters more than ever.

The unemployment figures don't lie: The Great Recession accelerated a long-term trend in the job market, in which education and skills are the best guarantees for work and good pay.

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The labor forecast covers some 750 occupations, from ones poised to shrink in size (Postal Service workers, telephone operators) to ones with faster than average growth. By 2020, jobs are expected to open up for 49,000 pest control workers, 232,000 preschool teachers, 59,000 architects, 93,000 musicians or composers, 40,000 translators, 315,000 social workers, and 25,000 masons or tile setters.

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But labor experts still see the problem of a "skills mismatch" as a big one.

"Many employers are saying they can't find workers with the right skill sets," says Julian Alssid, executive director of a consulting group called the Workforce Strategy Center, in Barrington, Rhode Island.

It's visible in specific fields and it's a more general issue. The workforce researchers at Georgetown argue that for several decades, the education system hasn't been boosting work-force skills as fast as the economy could use. So the pay premium for high-skill workers has been growing, contributing to a widening of income inequality.

How bad is the problem? That's a matter of debate. Ohio University economist Richard Vedder argues against too much emphasis on college enrollment. "The number of new college graduates far exceeds the growth in the number of technical, managerial, and professional jobs where graduates traditionally have gravitated," he writes in a recent Bloomberg Businessweek column.

A Businessweek analysis, conducted by the Seattle firm PayScale, finds that college generally yields a positive "return on investment" for those who go. But the return varies a lot, from $1.7 million (spread over 30 years) for a graduate of CalTech to an average of $333,000 for 853 colleges analyzed.

Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce is bullish on the demand for education, whether that means a college degree or another credential. Although the Labor Department research emphasizes the minimum skills required to enter a line of work, Smith says it's more important to look at the education levels that are typical of workers in that field. By that measure, the share of US jobs demanding more than a high school education has roughly doubled in the past three decades, to about 60 percent of all jobs.

Meanwhile, other nations are also "upskilling" in a bid to capture more of the high-wage jobs.

"We're in a globally competitive marketplace," Mr. Alssid says. "If we can't produce the workers needed today, we’re going to lose those jobs."

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