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Futurist Chris Carbone Provides Insight Into Jobs: 2020 and Beyond

By Chris Carbone

Where will you work in 2020? That’s the million-dollar question. In fact, the future of work is one of the hottest trends I am studying. Like the economy, it is one of the big mysteries that keeps us all up at night.

As a futurist, my job is to track international business and consumer trends by reading and analyzing just about anything I can get my hands on. The goal is to determine what the world might look like five, 10, and 20 years down the pike, and by tracking what’s going on today, my colleagues and I are able to forecast what life might look like around the bend.

In fact, my research shows that work will look much different in 2020, whether judged by the types of computing devices we use on the job, where we work, or the way we collaborate with our coworkers. Following are some of the trends that I am seeing.

For starters, the types of jobs that people hold will change.

Indeed, there will be careers that don’t even exist today—just as there were no “social media strategists” or “mobile app developers” a few short years ago.

That said, a great many of the jobs that will be held in 2020 are here today—and there’s a simple way to learn what they are by tapping into the wonderful world of government statistics.

Now, this may not sound like the most thrilling thing to do on a Friday night, and to save you the trouble, we’ve combed through the most recent employment projections for 2010-2020 developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The BLS creates these long-term projections to help educators, counselors, and policymakers plan for the needs of the future workforce. These projections can also offer insight to parents, students, career-changers, and anyone who—like me—knows that there’s a pretty solid chance that come 2020, they’re 1) not going to be independently wealthy, and 2) are still going to want and need to be working.

So what can we say about the careers of 2020 by looking at the most recent BLS data?

1. Let’s start with the good news: There will be millions of jobs to be had.

The BLS projects that there will be nearly 55 million job openings during the decade from 2010-2020. About 34 million of these jobs will come from the need to replace workers who retire or leave their job for another job or to return to school, etc., and nearly 21 million will come from new jobs that will be created during the decade.

(These projections assume a “full employment” economy in 2020 with unemployment of 5.2 percent, a welcome change from the current 6.1 percent in June, and a big improvement over the 10.0 percent rate in October 2009, according to the BLS.)

2. To find the jobs, follow our changing society, and the economy.

The jobs that will be plentiful in 2020 reflect some of the basic changes underway in US society and the economy, such as the aging of the population (especially the huge wave of Baby Boomers), a continued shift toward services and knowledge work, the increasingly important role that science and technology play in our lives, and the continued recovery of construction and other sectors that were hit hard by the Great Recession.

Research from the business community suggests a similar future. Researchers at McKinsey & Company, for example, forecast that six sectors will account for up to 85 percent of the new jobs created through 2020. They are health care, business services, leisure and hospitality, construction, retail, and certain types of manufacturing jobs.

3. Business jobs will remain attractive.

There will be some 5.1 million job openings in management, business, and finance through 2020 due to growth and replacement needs. Think of jobs such as company executives and managers, operations and HR managers, financial analysts, accountants and auditors, and advertising positions.

As a whole, this class of jobs will grow more slowly (11.5%) than total employment (14.3%) between 2010-2020, but with the median annual salaries for many of these jobs ranging into the $70,000s, $80,000s, and well beyond into six figures, this will continue to be an attractive category of jobs.

Some jobs will grow much faster than the management, business, and finance category’s 11.5 percent. This includes market research analysts and marketing specialists (42%), personal financial advisors (32%), social service managers (27%), and managers of health services (22%).

One real surprise in the data is that the number of meeting, convention, and event planners was projected to rise by nearly 44 percent by 2020, resulting in 31,000 new jobs and 45,000 total job openings.

While not huge numbers, the growth rate makes it the fastest growing job in management, business, and finance in the coming years. Clearly, face-to-face still matters, even as social networking and our “digital lives” become more important.

4. Find your future with STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Science and technology will continue to have dramatic impacts on our economy and society in the coming decade—and as we increasingly rely more on complex systems, and digital and genetic technologies of all types, the prospect for computer, engineering, and science jobs will be strong.

This class of jobs will grow by 17 percent through 2020, faster than the job market overall (14.3%). There will be 2.8 million job openings in this category due to growth and replacement needs through 2020. This will include many high-paying positions such as software developers and programmers ($85K median wage), statisticians ($73K median wage), chemical engineers ($90K median wage), psychologists ($68K median wage), and urban planners ($63K median wage).

Which occupation in this category will offer the most jobs? Given the importance of information technology in our work and personal lives, it should come as no surprise that it’s software developers and programmers.

There will be some 494,000 job openings for software developers and programmers through 2020 (about 314,000 new jobs and 180,000 jobs from replacement needs). For perspective, consider how this compares to one of the classic, go-to professional jobs of the past couple decades: attorneys.

In raw numbers, there will be more than two times as many job openings for software developers and programmers (494,000) as there are for lawyers (212,000) this decade. And in terms of percent growth, the number of new jobs for lawyers will grow more slowly than total employment (10% vs. 14.3%, respectively), while the number of computer jobs grows by 22 percent through 2020.

Which of the STEM jobs does the BLS see as growing the fastest this decade? The number of positions for biomedical engineers will rise from 15,700 to 25,400 by between 2010 and 2020, a jump of 62 percent. While not a huge raw number, the percent change is telling. For example, consider that the growth rate for chemical engineers will only be 6 percent during these same years. If I were a young student with a general interest in a STEM job, I know one career that I’d be looking into seriously. …

5. Teach and train the next generation.

There will be some 3.4 million education, training, and library job openings due to growth and replacement through 2020. This will be driven by a variety of trends including the maturing of the 80+ million Millennials, the largest living American generation. As more of the Millennials enter their 30s and start having children, it will drive the need for teachers and other education-related positions in the next decade and beyond. As a category, these jobs have a mean annual wage of $46,000. But remember, this means that half of the people with these jobs earn more than $46,000 and half earn less, and some positions in teacher-friendly states can lead to total compensation of salary and benefits close to $100,000.

6. Health-and-wellness jobs will boom.

Driven by trends such as the aging of the population and the increasing focus people are putting on health and wellness, there will be 3.6 million job openings for healthcare practitioners and technicians due to growth and replacement through 2020. These occupations include doctors and surgeons ($166K median salary), pharmacists ($112K median), physical therapists ($76K median), radiology techs ($54K), athletic trainers ($42K median), and even veterinarians ($82K median).

The clear standout opportunity in this area is for registered nurses (RNs), which should have the most job growth of all occupations through 2020, with a projected 712,000 new jobs. Between these new positions, and ones opening up due to replacement needs, there will be 1.2 million total job openings for RNs through 2020. And nursing is increasingly becoming a job for both men and women. In 2011, men made up about 6 percent of all nurses, but it’s estimated that by 2020 they could make up 25 percent of all nurses in the United States.

There will also be some 2 million more jobs in healthcare support careers. These positions require lower levels of education than the practitioner and technician careers and include jobs like orderlies in hospitals and physical therapy assistants. Of these healthcare support careers, the fastest growing will be for home health aides. The number of home health aides will explode by some 70 percent over the next decade, leading to some 706,000 new jobs. This is evidence of the deep desire of Americans to “age in place” and remain independent and at home for as long as possible.

What does all of this information mean for your future?

The analysis above is just a quick overview of some of the occupations that should yield solid opportunities for students, young professionals, and career-changers in coming years.

If you’re a parent, projections like this can help you as you guide your children to think about their education and their future. Let them explore, try lots of things, but seed your conversations with them with projections like these, and bring a dose of reality to the discussion by showing them which occupations will be abundant and which may be more difficult to break into.

If their passion is in a sector or occupation that isn’t expected to see rapid job growth in the next decade, that’s okay. Encourage them to pursue their goals, but with data like this they can do it from a more informed perspective. For example, a teen interested in healthcare who is strong in the sciences will benefit from knowing that there are going to be roughly 35 times as many job openings for registered nurses as for veterinarians through 2020.

Encourage them to be a vet if that’s what they really want, and armed with this kind of data they’ll know the kind of competition they’re up against, which can be a strong motivator and spur them on to achieve this goal.

What are other ways this information will be useful for yourself and your kids?

  • Look for occupations that are going to add a lot of jobs in terms of raw numbers. This ensures you’re focused on big targets.
  • Look for areas that have high growth-rates. Focusing in on these fast-growing industries and occupations can help future-proof your (or your children’s) career and keep it in step with the changing 21st century economy.
  • Triangulate. Look at the raw numbers and growth rates, but don’t forget the personal angle. If you’re thinking of a career change, where does your passion lie … and what do you enjoy doing? Use the data to help guide and explore, but don’t force yourself (or your kids) into a career just because there are a lot of jobs to be had.
  • Explore the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) yourself, and learn about job prospects, earnings, and what people actually do day-to-day in hundreds of careers. The 2014-15 edition was released in January 2014 and can be found at http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

Sources: C. Brett Lockard and Michael Wolf, “Occupational Employment Projections to 2020,” Monthly Labor Review, January 2012, www.bls.gov; Table 1.7, Employment Projections Program, US Department of Labor, US Bureau of Labor Statistics; Male Nursing Statistics; “An Economy that Works: Job Creation and America’s Future,” McKinsey & Co.

About Chris Carbone

Chris Carbone has worked in trend and foresight consulting for more than a decade, serving clients from Fortune 500 corporations and foreign and US government agencies. During this time he has researched and authored dozens of reports and scenarios on wide-ranging topics, from the future of leisure and play, to the future of urban mobility, to emerging consumer lifestyles in China.

He has been quoted in numerous publications including The Miami Herald, The Washington Post Express, and Fast Company, and appeared on “The CBS Early Show.” He currently oversees Innovaro’s two multi-client research projects—Global Lifestyles and Technology Foresight—and contributes to the firm’s custom engagements.

Carbone has an MBA from Johns Hopkins University with a concentration in marketing, and received his undergraduate degree in history from Gettysburg College. For more information, contact him by email.

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