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Young adults who don’t complete a four-year college degree have the odds stacked against them when it comes to earning potential.

But if they can gain skills in fields such as construction or health care after leaving high school or work their way into a management position, they can greatly improve their financial prospects, a new study from Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found.

A large share of those who lack a full-blown undergraduate degree, about four in 10 in Colorado, land a “good” job, one that pays enough to provide a decent living, the same share as seen nationally, the report found. The study defined a good job as one that paid at least $35,000 a year or $17 an hour for someone under the age 45 and $45,000 or $22 per hour and higher for someone older.

“We found a shift in good jobs over the past 25 years from traditional blue-collar industries to skilled services industry,” said Neil Ridley, state initiative director at Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce. “Colorado is one of the states that is leading in that trend.”

The long-running decline in manufacturing employment has contributed to a decline in the share of adults without a college degree nationally able to land a good job.

But in a group of 23 states, including Colorado, the number of blue-collar jobs actually rose from 1991 to 2015, the period studied. That’s because construction and transportation employment gains outpaced losses in manufacturing.

Colorado also has a high ratio of workers without a bachelor’s degree employed in skilled services industries, such as health care. Those account for about 51 percent of the total good jobs in Colorado among non-bachelor’s-degree workers compared to only 45 percent nationally.

Ridley and his authors don’t discount the value of a four-year degree in boosting earning power. About seven in 10 of those who earn a bachelor’s degree end up in a “good job” and they make $17,000 more in median pay a year than those who don’t complete a four-year degree.

The study found that among the 950,000 workers in Colorado with a bachelor’s degree, the median earnings were $55,000 a year. But about 658,000 or 70 percent of those workers were in “good” jobs and they had median earnings of $74,000.

Although high schools emphasize the importance of obtaining a four-year degree, alternatives short of that aren’t as commonly understood by students, Ridley said.

About half of those who complete an associate’s degree in Colorado, for example, manage to land a good job, while only 22 percent of those who don’t finish high school do.

The industries in Colorado that employ the most non-bachelor’s-degree workers at a good wage are construction, information, finance and real estate, retail trade, manufacturing, and health services.

Another route is to start in a lower-paying job and work up into a management position. About 15 percent of non-bachelor’s-degree workers in Colorado, or 76,000 people, hold a management position and have median earnings of $66,000 a year, the study found.

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