More than 396,000 "middle-skill" job openings – those that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree – are projected for the state by 2016, concludes a new study released July 14 by National Skills Coalition in partnership with SkillWorks and The Workforce Solutions Group. But to unleash the full economic benefits of these openings, Massachusetts will need to continue to invest in proper training and education for its workforce to make sure it has people ready for those jobs.

Though the recession has halted current employment growth, the report projects that middle-skill jobs (including new jobs and replacement) would account for 38 percent of all openings between 2006 and 2016.

"The biotech sector is growing rapidly, and finding qualified employees remains a challenge," said Suzanne Bruhn, senior vice president of strategic planning and program management for Shire Pharmaceutical. "As part of our manufacturing facility expansion here in Massachusetts, we plan to hire around 600 employees, many for positions that do not require four-year degrees. These include jobs such as Manufacturing Operator, Quality Control Technician, and Maintenance Mechanic; entry-level positions with benefits that offer potential for job growth and provide self-sufficient wages."

Despite Massachusetts' strong investments in post-secondary education and workforce training, preparation for middle-skill jobs has not kept up with demand. Prior to the national recession, Massachusetts was already experiencing shortages of middle-skill workers in crucial industries. About 45 percent of all jobs are classified as middle-skill, but only 32 percent of Massachusetts workers likely have the credentials to fill them. As Massachusetts, along with the rest of the country, moves from recession into recovery, employers will likely once again face the challenge of finding quality middle- and high-skill workers – slowing the pace of economic growth.

The report, which tracks Massachusetts' jobs at the middle-skill level, notes that as the economy picks up, the Commonwealth will see growth in these kinds of jobs.

"If Massachusetts seeks timely economic recovery and long-term prosperity, the state must ensure that its workforce has the necessary education and training to meet the labor demands of the future," urges Jessie Hogg Leslie of National Skills Coalition, the convening organization for the national Skills2Compete campaign. "The national recession provides a time frame for businesses and the state to be strategic, evaluate labor and skill needs, and train and prepare for the jobs that are expected to grow."