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A now hiring sign waves in the wind Friday outside a Helena Hardee's location. According to employment projections published by the Montana Department of Labor & Industry estimate 62,300 job openings each year through 2028.

HELENA — Looking for work in Montana? You’ll have tens of thousands of job openings to choose from over the coming decade, according to employment projections published by the Montana Department of Labor & Industry — provided, that is, you’re qualified for them.

The labor department figures, updated annually and released for 2018 to 2028 in late September, estimate 62,300 job openings each year through 2028. State economists expect 6.2% of those openings to be newly created positions, distinct from positions that come open as workers retire or change fields. Job openings created when workers change jobs within a profession aren’t included in these figures.

The projections, which are based on historical data and developed in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor, don’t account for the possibility that a recession or other short-term economic swing could transform Montana’s job picture in the coming years.

“Because the economy is constantly changing, the forecasts are not going to be exactly right,” state economists write. “Instead, projections should be viewed as the most likely employment growth outcome.”

The state labor department estimates that 46,240 openings a year, about three-quarters of the annual total, will be in occupations that require a high school education or less — fields that, with some exceptions, tend to pay poorer wages than positions for which employers expect applicants to have college credentials.

Overall, about 38% of projected job openings will be in fields with a median wage of more than $33,900 a year, equivalent to full-time work at $16.62 an hour — the compensation level that economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology call a living wage for a Montana family of four supported by two workers (of course, cost-of-living varies regionally within the state).

But prospects get better for workers with post-high-school training. In fields that don’t require formal education beyond high school, the fraction of job openings offering living wages is about one in four, or 26%. For fields that require additional training or a two-year college degree — including nursing assistants and truck drivers — the percentage is more than twice as large at 66%. For jobs that become accessible with a four-year degree, it rises to 83%.

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On the upper end of the education spectrum, the labor department projects that Montana will have about 131 annual openings for lawyers, a profession paid a median wage of $74,510. The highest-paid occupation in the department’s data, family and general practitioner doctors, is reported at a median annual wage of $201,770 and has a projected 14 annual job openings.

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In comparison, the department expects 178 openings a year for short-order cooks, who earn median wages of $24,450. It also expects 3,393 openings a year for cashiers, who earn a median wage of $21,990.

The well-paid positions accessible to workers without college educations are generally in skilled trades. For example, the labor department anticipates 323 openings a year for electricians, who make a median annual wage of $58,280. It also projects 45 annual openings for electric power line workers, who earn median wages of $88,920.

Lower-education, lower-pay occupations also tend to see higher turnover rates. The labor department expects as many as a fifth of Montana workers in several low-wage service industry occupations to leave the labor market or switch to another type of job annually through 2028.

For example, 19.7 percent of fast-food preparation workers, paid a median annual wage of $21,390, are expected to leave the industry every year. In contrast, the turnover rate for registered nurses, who earn a median annual wage of $65,690, is expected to be 5.4%, or about 1 annual departure for every 18 workers in the field.

Another high-turnover field is protective service workers, who earn more than fast-food preparers — median $30,460 — but have a projected turnover rate of 25.1%.

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This story is published by Montana Free Press as part of the Long Streets Project. This work is supported in part by a grant from the Greater Montana Foundation, which encourages communication on issues, trends, and values of importance to Montanans. Reach Lead Reporter Eric Dietrich at edietrich@mtfp.org.

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