Speaking of the Urban Institute, they have a research brief out called “Entry-Level and Next-Step Jobs in the Low-Skill Job Market” (pdf). The authors look for differences in noncollege jobs between “entry-level” – those that do not require a high school diploma, prior experience, or related skills trainings – and “next-step” – those that require at least one of those factors. They find that entry-level workers earn one-third less ($9.25/hr vs. $13.85), 2.6 times more likely to work part time, and about half as likely to receive benefits such as health insurance, retirement, or paid leave time.
Why do these jobs, none of which require a college degree, differ so greatly? Next-step workers use more cognitive and communicative skills, work in office and administrative capacities, and generally work for larger employers:
The differences in computer use, customer interactions, writing, and reading, are dramatic. Nevermind higher-order cognitive skills like critical thinking and analysis, these tasks really reinforce the importance of basic literacy for moving up the career ladder.
As a result, entry-level workers are twice as likely to work in services and construction/production/installation occupations (not industries – or classes of employers – but in occupational function) as next-step workers. Meanwhile, next-step workers are three times more likely to service in office or adminstrative functions (41.9 vs. 14 percent). Finally, nearly 58 percent of next-step jobs are at firms with more than 100 employees, compared to 43.6 percent of entry-level workers.
Unfortunately, the brief doesn’t explore differences in vocational skill requirements between the two types of jobs. That would allow us to get a sense as to whether general (esp. literacy)or specialized skills are more important in moving workers up into next-step jobs.