High-Wage Occupations: Today and Tomorrow

by Kale Donnelly

March 23, 2017

When searching for the right job, the typical job-seeker will ensure that a certain job’s criteria match their own – the job’s location, its responsibilities, the upward mobility within the company, as well as the education and experience required. But, the question on everyone’s mind is, “What does it pay?” The character played by Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street sums up this money-forward mindset by stating, “What’s worth doing is worth doing for money.” High-paying job openings are often met with a very competitive candidate pool. Therefore, the educational requirements, positions in high demand, and forecasted openings are worth analyzing when investigating the subject of high-wage occupations.
What Is High-Wage?

Occupations considered as high-wage in the State of Oregon pay more than the median wage of all occupations. The 2016 median hourly wage in Oregon was $18.15, which amounts to an annual salary of $37,752. Out of 805 occupation classifications, 522 are considered high-wage. However, out of the nearly 1.9 million employed workers in Oregon, 47 percent are employed in high-wage occupations. Worth noting, to qualify for one of these high-wage occupations, a competitive candidate typically needs to have some form of post-secondary education or training under their belt.
Education Pays

Conventional wisdom and societal norms tell us that big paychecks are usually a result of more education – the higher the degree, the higher the pay. However, that’s not entirely true. In Oregon, 30 percent of high-wage jobs require only a high school diploma or less as a typical entry-level educational requirement. While nearly one-third of high-wage jobs can possibly be filled by those without any post-secondary training, the competitiveness and overall reality of the labor market is a different story. When considering the competitive education level requirement for high-wage occupations, only 6 percent of high-wage jobs require at least a high school diploma and 94 percent require some degree of post-secondary education or training.

Attending a college or a university is not a requirement to obtain a high-wage job. Attending technical or vocational school, or any other type of post-secondary training, greatly increases your earning potential as well.
Overall, the acquisition of knowledge, experience, and applicable skills are just as important as education. The combination of all four is how to ultimately secure a competitive advantage in today’s economy.

Oregon’s High-Wage, High-Demand Occupations

Out of the 805 occupation classifications in Oregon, those occupations deemed as high-wage and high-demand total to 248 occupation classifications. To be deemed as high-wage and high-demand, the occupation must pay more than the median pay for all occupations, and have more projected openings than the median number of openings for all occupations. These total openings are comprised of growth and replacement openings.

Growth openings are newly created jobs in response to an increase in demand for a specific occupation. Replacement openings occur when a worker leaves an occupation, thus creating a vacancy to be filled by another worker. This includes workers who retire, leave the industry or specific occupational field, or move out of the area. While replacement openings are a subset of turnover openings, not all turnovers result in a replacement opening. A worker moving laterally from one company to another in the same position and same area would not create a replacement opening.

Those currently employed within high-wage, high-demand positions comprise 43 percent of current total statewide employment. The three high-wage occupations with the highest number of total projected openings by year 2024 are registered nurses with 12,841 openings; general and operations managers with 11,214 openings; and refuse and recyclable material collectors with 6,898 openings. It should be noted that these occupations aren’t the top three high-wage, high-demand occupations with the highest wages. Rather, these occupations have the largest number of projected openings while at the same time adhering to the definition of high-wage.

As high-wage, high-demand jobs currently comprise a decent share of total employment in the state, these jobs can be seen as ample opportunity for those in the labor force, or soon-to-be in the labor force, to have a chance at securing a high-wage position.

High-Wage Jobs by Occupational Group

High-wage occupations are not solely located within a few occupational groups, but rather woven within every occupational group and industry in the state. The top three occupational groups with the most projected high-wage openings are management; health care practitioners and technical; and business and financial operations. This is purely a measure of forecasted job openings for positions above the $18.15 per hour threshold. These occupational groups are projected to have openings that meet the criteria of a low-wage occupation, as well.
The occupational groups with the largest amount of projected high-wage openings also top the list with the greatest amount of high-wage employment in 2014. Taking a look at the change in projected high-wage openings with respect to current total employment paints another telling picture. Here the occupational groups at the top are those that will see the greatest relative change in high-wage employment.

By this measure, it’s much easier to see the likelihood of a worker obtaining a high-wage job in each occupational group. The occupational groups topping the list contain high-wage jobs that are growing rapidly and are most likely needing to replace retiring workers, or workers leaving the occupation, which creates a replacement opening. In this instance, architecture and engineering tops the list for the relative demand for high-wage workers, followed by the management, and computer and mathematical occupation groups.


Workers with some amount of post-secondary education or training are much more likely to obtain a high-wage position, and nearly half of these positions are considered to be in high-demand. In a competitive job market, chance favors the prepared. So, those considering their options for future employment should consider the education and experience required, as well as each occupational group’s relative need for high-wage workers.

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