Following up on future jobs

The future of American jobs, continued: following up on my discussion last week about the United States BLS jobs of the future report, Ron Griggs points out a related chart from the same federal agency. “Most new jobs” displays the “20 occupations with the highest projected numeric change in employment”, rather than the jobs growing proportionally.

Here are the top ten:

  1. Registered Nurses
  2. Retail Salespersons
  3. Home Health Aides
  4. Personal Care Aides
  5. Office Clerks, General
  6. Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers, Including Fast Food
  7. Customer Service Representatives
  8. Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers
  9. Laborers and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers, Hand
  10. Postsecondary Teachers

These share many similar characteristics with the “Fastest growing occupations” report: an emphasis on service (not manufacturing), a lack of educational demands.  There isn’t much sign of the vaunted knowledge economy.  There’s also a tendency towards lower salaries:


Only a few of these are middle class positions, of themselves.

Once again I ask, what does this kind of prognostication tell us about higher education?  Perhaps academia is marginal to these mainstream, growing jobs, whose educational demands do not link up with liberal arts colleges or research universities.

Alternatively, note how many are related to health care.  Schools could read this as a summons to strengthen their various life sciences programs.

From a darker perspective, the BLS outlines the careers from which traditional higher education claims to rescue students.  College and university experience gives the learner the means to avoid such burgeoning fates; is that our emerging marketing strategy?

What does this kind of projection tell policymakers?  The regional growth formula of “meds and eds” would still work, perhaps.  Or that they should simply prepare for greater economic inequality, and assume education no longer reduces class divisions.

From a different angle, we can also ask: what needs to happen for this BLS project to be wrong?  What kind of changes would impact the next decade to produce a different set of jobs?

(edited 5/17/13)

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15 Responses to Following up on future jobs

  1. These jobs’ salaries compare favorably with those of people earning minimum wage, so education may be impacting earning power greatly. Different questions may beg asking. Can you clarify what the correlation is between these jobs and education?

  2. Well, to begin with, colleges and universities have usually cast themselves as offering a more powerful economic effect than just levering graduates out of minimum wage jobs. For nearly a century American higher education has been supposed to be a path to the middle class. Maybe that’s changing.

    Between these jobs and education: not much of one. Some (nurses, teachers) require postgraduate degrees, but the rest don’t.

  3. Rolin Moe says:

    I’m surprised to see postsecondary teachers on the list, though it certainly could me auxiliary or adjunct rather than what we traditionally think of as a postsecondary teacher.

    My contentions with the “don’t go to college” argument that’s gaining steam again:

    1) Books like DIY U or Don’t Go Back to School are written from a very privileged position: both Kamenetz and Stark have extensive education backgrounds from prestigious universities. The “I went to school, and it was a waste for me” is disingenuous; that’s a personal belief that waxes dangerous if applied without context of environment . If they were picking themselves up by their bootstraps, they were already wearing Doc Martens.
    2) If college is about getting jobs (some to a lot of it has to be by necessity), it is a broken model if the jobs are dramatically shifting. But so are vocations if we are moving toward this “knowledge economy” everyone speaks of as if it’s ethereal. Employers say they want people with critical and divergent thinking skills, people who are well-rounded and understand the ability to go from concrete to abstract back to concrete. That is the definition of education rather than training, so why are the new initiatives looking at training under the guise of “lifelong learning”?
    3) The MOOCing population is well-educated and self-motivated. That will likely change as MOOCs start to offer credit as being done at SJSU and now looking like GATech, but it will only change for those private-private-public partnerships. Autodidacts don’t necessarily need the scaffolding and social learning that the majority of people do in order to retain and grow knowledge and wisdom. I hope that research on these credit-offering MOOCs goes past direct outcomes from the course and into longitudinal work on the effect
    4) College does not have to be this expensive, and the MOOC does not have to be the Obi Wan Kenobi Only Hope of education. People point to the decline in public subsidy, and that is one argument, but that’s not coming back any time soon. Education can run as a government rather than a business, more in the line of Jerry Brown’s current CA budget that seeks to balance the ebb and flow of tax revenue. I am not a fan of Teach for America, but the AmeriCorps model of public service has tradition in our society. Of course, if there are no public structures to dedicate the first years of workforce experience to (and it’s quite a stretch to call TFA a public service), we are relegated to lectures brought to us by our good friends at AT&T.

    • Good thoughts, Rolin. Esp #3.
      A few responses:
      To #2, it seems the knowledge economy is smaller (if better paid) than the service economy. Some chunk of higher ed serves the function of skilling people for the latter.

      To #4, how will campuses reduce costs? They are (often) contractually obligated to support that population of tenured faculty, which is the biggest cost. Do you see administrators cutting their own population? Or will the t-profs die/retire quickly?

      • Rolin Moe says:

        On 4, I had an interesting conversation with the head of the EDLT program at Pepperdine, who saw the rise in health insurance costs just as big an issue to the institution as a glut of tenured professors. As long as health insurance stays as expensive and contentious an issue as it is now, the cost of pensioners on governments and institutions will continue to be a double whammy. Of course, admin don’t notice the meteoric rise in their numbers at institutions of learning, and public campaigns are almost always designed to refit buildings and external structures to a gilded quality. That said, schools built during the Great Society look like factories and lack communal architecture.

        I have no idea how to cut costs and preserve the institution without adopting some pretty radical approaches to how societies view and account colleges. In my last answer I tried to mention an option for NGOs and other companies to adopt a TFA model and pay off the loans/debt of graduates who provide x years of service. That’s small potatoes though. Partnerships with AT&T are another similar option.

  4. CogDog says:

    Wasn’t this list 7 or 8 years ago full of “knowledge worker” jobs? I looked briefly but could not locate that list. In reading Taleb’s Black Swan I am leery of forecasts!

    I’m still looking to bricklaying. My dad did it.

    • I remember knowledge workers talked up in the 90s, but not the 00s.
      Agreed re: Taleb.
      My grandfather supposedly invented a brick-making machine. You and I could work together.

  5. Steven Kaye says:

    Here’s the Most New Jobs list for 2004-2014:, which has pointers to some additional resources (such as

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  7. Joe Murphy says:

    Just a thought – have you looked at the way the labor market in nursing works? A friend has noticed the pendulum swing between contract nurses (who work for a staffing agency) and “permanent” nurses (who work for a hospital directly). As she tells it, this system is advantageous to people willing to be flexible about their workplace and schedule – jumping from agency to hospital and back as opportunities open up. I wonder if there’s any relevance for this model in an adjunctified academic job market. An agency could benefit both sides by removing the costs of job searches.

  8. Which way is the nursing pendulum swinging, towards or away from contract nurses?

    • Joe Murphy says:

      I don’t know the macro answer. My impression on the micro level is that it swings pretty quickly, based on the needs of the hospital and the availability of nurses in the region.

  9. I can see the micro. The macro, though, is where policy has to get made.

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