Monday, May 21, 2012

The Best Careers

Good morning! 

Often on the radio I have been asked what careers young people and others should choose. 

The best way to approach the issue of where someone should try to work is by looking at the factors that are causing jobs to go away permanently, which are, in rough order of importance:

1.  Automation.  It has become more and more extreme, to the point where any position using linear logic, in other words "if A happens, I'll do B," is in danger to be taken over by a machine.

2.  Globalization.  Has reached the point where Americans are just too expensive.

3.  Health insurance.  It costs more and more, and inhibits job creation and maintaining existing ones.

4.  Scalability:  Many modern products, especially electronic ones, can be produced by the millions for little more labor than the original one cost.

5.  Efficiencies discovered during bad times.  They get used even when the resources, particularly time and money, come back to make them unneccessary.

We need to consider jobs that are relatively resistant to the factors above. 

The best will be positions that must be done by humans, in person, on things too complicated for automation.  Strangely enough, these can be those in physical environments, even if working with them does not require unusual intelligence.  For example, it will be a long time before hotel rooms can be remade and cleaned by machines, yet radiologists, who make a living interpreting patterns, are in serious danger. 

Next best will be those that require local workers.  If you order a box of doughnuts, they will come from in or near where you live or work, no matter how good the ones across the country.  Likewise haircuts, massages, and many health care services. 

Jobs that can be done by people not requiring health insurance will also fare better.  Work in creating products that cannot be easily duplicated, such as software, will last longer.  Jobs where work processes can't be improved further will not be eliminated that way.  But mainly it is the automation and globalization.  If you work on a computer, you can be replaced by someone anywhere in the world, but if you work with your hands, you can't be. 

Accordingly, I especially recommend the following:

- Skilled building trades
- Housekeeping
- Food preparation
- Personal services in which hands are used
- Cleaning or maintenance
- Driving trucks, buses, or taxis.

What more can you think of?  Would you like to see more on this topic?


James B. Huntington


  1. Hi Jim. I've been enjoying your blog on the poor state of job availability. One comment on this particular entry: With the exception of building trades that require a particular, we might say advanced skillset, the other jobs you recommend seem to fall into the category of requiring little specialized skills - or at least skills that can be easily acquired.
    Are educated business professionals, such as Project Managers (we have both performed that function) doomed to drive cabs?

    Paul Athaide

    1. Absolutely correct on the skills required - many jobs we consider "bad" will survive much longer than many "good" jobs consisting mostly of analyzing symbols, which, once we get the programming and interfaces developed, computers can do better. That includes many educated business professionals.

      Project managers, I think, will fare better for avoiding automation, as much of what happens in projects is unpredictable and unprogrammable. However, what has been happening in that field, and will continue, is that PMs will be needed only for the length of projects, and not as permanent staff members. I had always known that as the "project management model," but someone on the radio in California called it "the movie model," where professionals are hired to make a film, and once it is completed they aren't needed any more. As projects are by definition temporary, expect to see more and more contract offers, probably well-paying, but without even pretense of ongoing employment.