This is exactly what the good people at the Bureau of Labor Statistics do as a part of their job. The Bureau’s “Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition” is an excellent source of information and analysis concerning job trends.
One of its most valuable features is its detailed listings of job categories and their expected increase or decrease. These projections are made on a decade-long basis, with the most recent being for the 2008-2018 period.
As a starting point for discussion, here are the top 20 such occupational categories, and the number of jobs they are projected to add over this ten year period:
Registered nurses: 581,500
Home health aides: 460,900
Customer service representatives: 399,500
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food: 394,300
Personal and home care aides: 375,800
Retail salespersons: 374,700
Office clerks, general: 358,700
Accountants and auditors: 279,400
Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants: 276,000
Postsecondary teachers: 256,900
Construction laborers: 255,900
Elementary school teachers, except special education: 244,200
Truck drivers, heavy and tractor-trailer: 232,900
Landscaping and groundskeeping workers: 217,100
Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks: 212,400
Executive secretaries and administrative assistants: 204,400
Management analysts: 178,300
Computer software engineers, applications: 175,100
Receptionists and information clerks: 172,900
Now let’s take a look at a few things that are striking about the expected job trends:
2. Jobs that can’t be outsourced are more likely to increase.
Note how many of the jobs on the list require being physically present. One partial exception is number 3 on the list, “customer service representatives.” A certain percentage of those jobs can be outsourced, if we’re talking about phone and e-mail customer service. English-speakers (or alarmingly often, people who only fit in that category in the loosest sense) located anywhere in the world are now pegged to do those jobs.
But for the most part, the jobs that are increasing the fastest are those one has to be present to do. To be an in-home health care worker, to work the counter at a fast food restaurant, to do the landscaping on a piece of property, one has to be physically at that location, not merely connected in some cyber/virtual/high tech/telecommunications/computer manner from some other country or continent.
3. High tech jobs don’t fare as well as expected.
If you were to ask people on the street who’ve never seen this data what jobs they think are increasing the fastest, probably most would pick all or mostly computer and technology-related jobs—”software this,” “computer that,” “systems whatever.”
But that’s not reflected at all on the actual list. Granted, elementary school teachers, accountants, office clerks, etc. use computers and related technology as tools in their work, but you have to go all the way down to number 18, “computer software engineers, applications,” to find a truly “tech” job.
4. “Low end” jobs are increasing the most.
Of the 20 occupational categories on the list, only five typically require as much as a bachelor’s degree, and only one or at most two typically require more education than a bachelor’s degree. Zero of the 20 pay median annual full time wages of $100,000 or more. Only five pay even $50,000. Seven pay less than $25,000. So we’re talking about a lot of jobs where even people who are lucky enough to be employed will likely be doing plenty of moonlighting, need a partner also working full time, have to scrape just to get by, or multiple of the above.
What this last point especially underscores is that there is a big difference between jobs that are increasing and jobs that are worth seeking. The fact that a lot of Xs will be needed in the next few years is merely one of many factors to take into account in deciding one’s future. You also have to look at how much a job pays, how intrinsically interesting and fulfilling you would find it, how dangerous it is, what ethical issues it would raise for you, and on and on.
But it certainly helps to know if a given job is dying out or on the rise. And the projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics are quite useful in that regard.