Friday, August 22, 2014

How Careers Stack Up for the Next 20 Years

Last year, I published Choosing a Lasting Career, a book designed to fill the gap between those with occupational personality assessments, such as What Color Is Your Parachute?, and sources on the tactics of getting hired, such as Sweaty Palms.  My thesis was that in order to determine the best careers, we needed to consider not only personal factors such as how much time they would leave for our outside activities, but objective ones such as how resilient they would be in the face of such growing factors as replacement by robots and foreigners. 

The conclusions, at times, were stunning.  While published lists of the most desirable jobs emphasized those with strong current demand, I took a longer view.  In 2033, most recent graduates of college, not to mention high school, will have over 20 years remaining before they turn 65, so the long-term viability of the fields they choose will be critical.  Some careers, such as pharmacy, are doing well now, but, considering the trends toward globalization, automation, and efficiency, along with likely technological improvements and social developments, are almost certain to have vastly smaller demand.  On the other hand, health care aides, while generally low paid, promise to be around for a long time, and also have high rankings on other factors I considered.

In Choosing a Lasting Career, I rated 506 different jobs on seven different factors.  They were local boundness (the chance of a job needing to be done from the same immediate area in 2033), resistance to robotics improvements, resistance to computing and connectivity improvements, the prospects for it paying a good living wage, median pay level, overall quality of working conditions, and compatibility with family life and outside projects.  Assessments on the last four of these I documented and compared but left mostly at that, as they are personal matters.  One man may welcome working with his hands outdoors, while another would prefer to be in an air-conditioned office, and neither is objectively correct.  The first three factors, which are good or bad for everyone regardless of what they want from a job, were incorporated into ratings for each position of Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor. 

Using these evaluations, I assembled average scores for each of what the United States Department of Labor terms “occupation groups.”  On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning all jobs in the occupation group were scored at Poor, and 5 indicating all were Excellent, the 25 groups came out as follows:


Those in the process of determining what career they want to have, or soon to get there, should be aware of several things in particular.

First, the categories of Community and Social Service and Healthcare, though far from consistently excellent, are the standouts for lasting through 2033.  Both benefit from needing to be done in person, with little prospect for replacement by robots or computer systems, along with aging and disadvantaged populations guaranteed to continue needing their efforts.  In Community and Social Service, one of ten specific jobs came out as Excellent (mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists), and ten of 48 in Healthcare achieved the same (audiologists; cardiovascular technologists and technicians and vascular technologists; EMTs and paramedics; home health and personal care aides; massage therapists; nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants; occupational therapists; occupational therapy assistants and aides;  physical therapist assistants and aides; and physician assistants).  By comparison, only eight of the 448 jobs in the other 23 groups achieved that ranking. 

Second, some generally humble fields will be around long after current ones are devastated.  People working in Building and Grounds Cleaning, Personal Care and Service, and Food Preparation and Serving may not be paid well (though, if they become managers or business owners, may well be), but they will be in solid demand for the next 19 years.  Those who think money less of a factor should consider something here.

Third, Computer and Information Technology, regardless of its current flourishing, is in big long-term trouble.  The main problem that will savage this field for Americans is that few people in this area need to be that.  Indians and Russians, especially, already often have the background and skills to succeed at these positions at far lower pay, and it only remains for companies to realize that before putting together entire teams of technicians, most paid less than average corporate secretaries, elsewhere. 

Fourth, while construction, extraction, and production are often considered together, and indeed two of them still are by the Department of Labor, they have completely different long-term prospects.  Jobs in production and extraction look poor long-term, especially because of the threat from robotics and other technology, but construction will flourish, especially in relatively good economic times.  There is a vast difference between the enduring employability of dry-wall specialists, who can count on many things being built that require their skills, and good, experienced manufacturers of almost anything.

Fifth, the same goes for jobs in the sciences, which are generally promising especially in private industry, and positions in mathematics, which suffer from the same problem as those in computer technology.  Math is the same all over the world, and Americans have no monopoly on education in it. 

Sixth, notice the low rankings for Office and Administrative Support, Production, and Military.  During the postwar years, these fields had close to half of American jobs.  Now, all three are in terrible shape.  Keep that in mind when wondering if demand for people in careers can actually go away.

Watch this blog for more posts about the prospects for future careers.  In the meantime, Choosing a Lasting Career is available, among other places, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 



  1. How many in your list are jobs related to real wealth creation and not just the transfer of it?

    1. A fine consideration! You can look over the list of jobs and judge for yourself.