Gateway Jobs featuring Bryan Lindsley, Erin Olson, and Herbert King

With Minnesota’s unemployment rate at a historically low 2.0%, natural job progression offers insight into the best opportunities for workers to advance out of poverty, as well how training providers can be on the cutting edge of workforce development

This post is the second in a two-part series co-written by Erin Olson of RealTime Talent and Bryan Lindsley of This post shares the current top five two-year degree gateway jobs in the MSP Metro, discusses how real-time data is transforming the future of workforce development, and advises training providers on how they can adapt to these changes.

The first post introduces real-live career progressions, defines “gateway jobs” and shares the current top five “no college required” gateways jobs in the MSP Metro.

Part 2: Top 5 two-year degree gateway jobs in MSP

Authors: Erin Olson, Director of Strategic Research and Bryan Lindsley

What are gateway jobs?

Gateway jobs are middle-skill, middle-wage roles that are most likely to be the connection between and entry-level job and a well-paid career. (If you’re looking for more information about Gateway Jobs and how they fit into the Occupation-Gateway-Target model, check out our previous post on this topic).

The Top 5 two-year degree Gateway Jobs  in the MSP Metro

For those looking to advance their education in an in-demand field, these Gateway jobs typically require a two-year degree and have the highest volumes of local demand (as of June 2022):

  1. Medical Assistants – Health Science careers have the most severe talent shortages in the MSP Metro, with Medical Assistants being the Gateway Occupation with the highest total demand over the next five years. With an average annual wage of $44,400, these roles typically require a two-year degree, but the local graduate supply is likely to be insufficient for employer demand in the immediate future.
  1. Licensed Practical Nurses – With unemployment at about 1.5% in the MSP Metro, LPN talent are in dire need. These roles offer an average annual wage of about $52,900 and are forecast to see at least 3,275 openings over the next five years.
  1. Mental Health Counselors – The mental health of our community has come to the front and center of public discourse. The MSP Metro alone will need at least 3,120 new Substance Abuse and Mental Health Counselors by 2027, and is already facing an unemployment rate of just 1.2% (only 61 individuals unemployed). The number of postsecondary graduates will likely be insufficient to meet employer demand for talent in the immediate future. These positions pay an average annual wage of $55,600.
  1. Child, Family, and School Social Workers – The supply of skilled talent to provide mental health supports for children in schools is even lower than that of general mental health counselors, with local unemployment at about 0.6% (only about 31 individuals unemployed). Graduates from local postsecondary programs will likely not be enough to meet the needs of MSP Metro schools. These positions pay an average of $60,400 annually.
  1. Dental Assistants – The MSP Metro is fortunate to have local dental programs that supply Dental Assistants across Minnesota; however, the MSP Metro is still poised to experience a shortage of talent in this critical area with about 2,414 openings anticipated over the next five years. Unemployment currently sits at just 2.3% and roles pay about $56,900 annually across the MSP Metro.

The Impacts of Focusing on Gateway Careers in Career and Technical Education

RealTime Talent has leveraged analysis of Gateway jobs that typically require a certificate, industry credential, or two-year degree in work with Career and Technical Education (CTE) consortia across Minnesota. Since 2019, RealTime Talent has supported seven individual CTE consortia in their understanding of their student performance outcomes, equity targets, and CTE program alignment to local labor market needs. In 2020 and 2021, RealTime Talent also delivered regional reports for Minnesota State highlighting workforce needs across the six career fields of CTE. In the October 2021 report series, the OGT Model played a central role in illustrating the promising opportunities for Gateway jobs to drive opportunities into the high-wage, high-skill, high-demand Target jobs in each field.

“The OGT model further supports the important work of creating and strengthening alignment in CTE programs offered at the secondary level (K-12) with CTE programs at the postsecondary level,” says Herbert King, Ed.D., Perkins and Transition Specialist at Century College. “Deepening program alignment ensures knowledge and skills students acquire are easily transferrable.”

Not only does the model support program alignment, but informs the direction for right-sizing the student body to meet local demand. “The report that RealTime Talent developed for us, which included the OGT model, enables us to identify both award and occupation gaps in addition to projected talent shortages,” says King. “This model helps CTE programs determine if we are creating enough CTE program graduates to meet the labor market shortages projected for all six career pathways for the Northeast Metro Consortium.”

King also sees this model as useful in the identification of the most powerful technical skills for boosting a students’ career: “The model enables CTE programs to take a closer look at jobs in industry and determine if we are helping to meet labor market needs and ensure students are acquiring the technical skills needed for high wage, high demand CTE occupations.”

For more information on how this model can be used in CTE, see our three-blog series we did with Eva Scates-Winston earlier this year for how to apply real-time data in CTE equity analysis.

The future of workforce development for training providers

Workforce development is undergoing a major transformation. In the past, changes to the field have been prompted either by recessions (transitioning from low unemployment to high) or growth (transitioning from high unemployment to low). These changes typically happened over the course of many years.

Now, because of advances in big data and related analysis, the field is learning to adapt to a labor market that changes much more quickly. Job postings change daily, and the best opportunities for career progression can change on a monthly basis.

Based on these new trends and tools, it seems likely that the future of workforce development will be much more dynamic. As the transformation unfolds, here are 5 shifts currently in progress.

The future of workforce development will…

  1. Be based on real-life career progressions as opposed to theoretical career pathways;
  2. Use real-time data as opposed to long-term forecasts;
  3. Rely on a mix of experience and credentials rather than just credentials;
  4. Accept constantly changing skill, credential and experience requirements, as opposed to seeing them as fixed or always increasing;
  5. Focus on occupations and skills most likely to result in long-term career and wage advancement as opposed to training and credentials for any living wage job.

How training providers can adapt and lead

Workforce training providers can best serve their participants and prepare for the future by:

  • Using real-time data on a regular basis to evaluate the alignment of existing programming to talent needs, identify the emerging roles and skillsets in-demand in a changing economy, and design strategies to address critical talent shortages. To learn more, contact Erin Olson.
  • Strategically assess existing workforce programs to see how they fit into the current market.
  • Train your staff in methods and tools designed for a dynamic labor market. You can learn about the top 10 benefits of a systems thinking training or take Bryan’s online course.

Click here for definitions and methodology associated with this post.

About the co-author

Bryan Lindsley teaches Lasting Results For Complex Problems, an online course for nonprofits, government and philanthropy. His e-book, The Fail List: Top 10 Mistakes of Systems Change Initiatives and How To Avoid Them, is available on his website, where he regularly shares resources for problem solvers and changemakers.