Where’s the job market headed?
An important feature of the job market is it never stands still. As the economy changes, and the products and services people buy change, so too do jobs. Jobs that exist today may not be around tomorrow. At the same time, jobs that don’t exist today could be part of tomorrow’s economy.
Developments in technology are a key reason why jobs are both created and destroyed. In the 21st century, there have been big advances in technology, such as computers, cell phones, and data storage. Consequently, there have been on-going changes in jobs.
About a decade ago, two British economists predicted almost half of current jobs would be gone by mid-century. This conclusion came after a detailed analysis of how emerging technology would change the nature of jobs, allowing more tasks to be done by technologies like digital programs and robots.
But with the economy changing so rapidly — especially after the pandemic — can we still use predictions made even a few years earlier? Indeed, robots are becoming more capable, and a relatively new technology — artificial intelligence — is just starting to be used.
Fortunately, there’s been a recent update of how jobs might change in the future — especially identifying which jobs are expected to significantly decline. The new research, just released last year, is based on analysis by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Winners and losers
Before examining the new forecasts, let me review how much the job market has changed in just the last decade. BLS calculates that between 1999 and 2018, 15% of all occupations experienced job declines of 25% or more. Change in the labor market has clearly been occurring.
Looking ahead to the decade of 2019 to 2029, BLS expects several occupations to lose jobs. Included are housekeepers, tax preparers, reporters, cashiers, customers service reps, travel agents, and computer programmers. Interestingly, these are occupations with different salary levels. So, what do they have in common?
Most are occupations where the tasks now done by humans can likely be accomplished in the future by technology. Much of the work of housekeepers can be performed by robots. Tax forms can now be prepared by on-line computer programs. In supermarkets, cashiers are being replaced by scanners. Customers service reps, travel agents, and even reporters, while still including “real” people, are having more of their work provided by on-line websites. Even computer-aided software and artificial intelligence technology are forecasted to replace many computer programmers.
Overall, total jobs are expected to increase 4% for the 10 years from 2019 to 2029. Notice, the starting year of 2019 is prior to the pandemic, so none of this increase reflects the rebound in jobs after the Covid-19 recession of 2020.
What occupations will have the largest increases this decade? At the top of the list are nurses, renewable energy technicians, cooks, statistical and data scientists, and physical therapists. A look at this list reveals two driving forces — our aging population (nurses and physical therapists) and technology (renewable energy technicians and statistical and data scientists). Cooks are among the top categories probably because people are eating-out more frequently, and we like good meals! All of these categories are expected to have job growth rates at least five-times faster than the increase in total jobs.
Although they are not among the expected fastest growing occupations, it is important to mention another occupational category — the “skilled trades” like carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and bricklayers. Many of the tasks performed by the skilled trades are not suitable for technology. The problem is retiring workers in the skilled trades are not being completely replaced by younger workers. To meet the 4% growth rate expected in the skilled trades during the current decade, more effort will be needed to attract qualified workers.
In the years ahead, look for substantial “job churning” — meaning some jobs will almost disappear while others surge in numbers. Are we ready for the resulting shifts in employment? Do we have the necessary education and training programs in place? These are important questions for everyone.