Online and in bookstores, you will see a lot of material purporting to provide the ‘best jobs’ or ‘best careers.’ They consistently emphasize two things – current demand, and average pay. But for today’s graduates, and even people well into middle age, those are not the critical factors. Why?
More than any other consideration, people deciding among careers must be aware of the future situation, not the nature of the past or even the present. Therefore, we should not overemphasize possibly temporary advantages, or look at too short an upcoming timespan. One large book on the “best jobs” names as its first- and third-highest-ranking ones developers of applications and systems software, citing their average annual earnings of over $80,000, high expected growth percentages through 2018, and 15,000 openings apiece each year. Developers of uncategorized software ranked first on the CareerCast website in its piece on the 200 best jobs of 2012, and second in a like U.S. News & World Report article. These sources do not incorporate any outlook later on, and fail to consider that software development can be done from anywhere in the world, by people willing to be paid a lot less. Over the next twenty years, prospects for American software developers are not great – in fact they are poor.
Similarly, other positions look different from a longer perspective. This same career book rates pharmacists, with annual earnings over $100,000, 17% growth projected through 2018, and over 10,000 annual openings, at 13th overall. I also rate this job poorly, since pharmacy as a profession is currently buoyed by outdated prescription-filling requirements and the lack of comprehensive electronic-based medical records, and when these situations end a long time before 2033, far fewer will be needed. Another is accountants and auditors, 11th out of 400 “best jobs overall” with growth over 20% and almost 50,000 annual openings, and mentioned first in another U.S. News & World Report piece, about six “hot jobs” – I again disagree, since auditing and accounting, even if demand is currently strong, are very susceptible to both automation and globalization. People may do well with positions rated highly by others for the next five years, and that’s all there are until 2018, but spending much time and money for, say, pharmacy education, in expectations of a solid career for life, would now be a serious mistake. Many people graduating college this year will be 27 in 2018, and numerous new high school graduates will be 23, hardly the best horizons for their career planning.
The opposite can also be true, as positions considered poor in most sources can look much better for 2033. In the CareerCast listing of “the 10 worst jobs of 2011,” the fifth and sixth ones named, taxi driver and emergency medical technician, happen to have exceptionally good two-decade projections – their work will not go away.
Another dissent I have with other things you may read is on science-related opportunities. Some are indeed fine areas, but the field is hardly the wide-open hiring area implied by those who say American universities do not produce enough science graduates. Many want to work in academia, but as of 2009, only 14% of new degree-holders in the life sciences were able to get university positions teaching or researching within five years, a share shrinking steadily since 1979, and reports published in 2010 and 2011 show that private industry has not hired enough science doctorates to make the degrees financially worthwhile. As one example, between 2000 and 2012 American drug companies cut 300,000 positions, many formerly providing work for Ph.D.’s in chemistry. As a result of poor job opportunities, many scientists with doctoral degrees in various disciplines have now been working as low-paid postdoctoral fellows, customarily one to two-year apprenticeships of sorts, for as long as ten.
One factor, level of pay, is overemphasized for four reasons. First, amount of income will increasingly become an individual issue, as all jobs will allow survival. Second, more money means more competition, which means positions that pay more will be harder to get for that reason alone. Third, high-income jobs have the disadvantage of attracting replacement by robots, computer systems, and lower-compensated foreign workers. Fourth, in order to get the money involved, you must be employed in the field – a jobless nurse’s aide earns 100% as much for work as an unemployed computer systems manager – so the chances of actually working at a given position can be as important, if not more so, as how much it pays. Along with quality of work conditions and compatibility with other involvements, it is up to you – and not any experts – to decide how important they are.