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Perryman: Where the new jobs will be

Nov. 3, 2017 at 11:37 p.m.


About nine of 10 new jobs over the next decade will be in services-producing industries, many of them in health care.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released projections for growth in jobs through 2026. It estimates employment will increase by 11.5 million over the 2016-26 decade, somewhat faster than the prior 10 years (which were marred by the Great Recession). If you haven't checked out the Occupational Outlook Handbook, you should. It provides a wealth of information on about 575 occupations, such as growth prospects, wage rates, work environment, training requirements and much more. It includes a searchable database and user-friendly descriptions, tables, graphs, maps and even videos.

The latest projections reveal underlying shifts in the way businesses are functioning, the economy is growing, and the population is changing. Expansion in the U.S. labor force will be slow as population growth declines. The labor force participation rate is also projected to continue to fall, reaching 61 percent in 2026, down from almost 63 percent in 2016 and 67 percent at its peak in 2000.

The aging of the baby boom generation will increase the share of workers 55 and older, and the diversity of the workforce will rise. By 2026, about one of every five workers will be of Hispanic origin.

By industry, health care and social assistance is expected to become the largest major sector by 2026, with almost 4 million jobs added. That's about one-third of all new jobs. Health care support occupations (with growth of more than 23 percent) and health care practitioners and technical occupations (up more than 15 percent) are projected to be among the fastest-growing occupational groups. In fact, these two occupational groups account for 14 of the 30 fastest growing occupations from 2016 to 2026 and are projected to contribute about one-fifth of all new jobs by 2026. The aging of the baby boomers, longer life expectancies and growing rates of chronic conditions are factors contributing to rising demand for health care.

On the list of 20 occupations adding the most jobs, the top is personal care aides, expected to increase by 754,000 over the next 10 years. Other high-growth occupations include fast food preparation and serving workers (up 579,900), registered nurses (437,000) and home health aides (425,600). Rounding out the top five is software developers (applications), with a gain of 253,400 projected. The list contains several other health care fields, more food service categories, janitors, operations managers, construction laborers, accountants, market researchers, landscaping workers, truck drivers and maintenance and repair workers, among others.

Only five of the 20 fastest-growing occupations pay more than $50,000 per year (based on median pay): registered nurses at $68,450, software developers at $100,080, general and operations managers at $99,310, accountants and auditors at $68,150 and market research analysts and marketing specialists at $62,560. Many of the fields adding the most jobs involve much lower pay in the range of $20,000 to $25,000.

A closer look at specific occupations can reveal additional shifts. For example, software developers are well paid, and the field is adding more jobs than almost any other. However, the closely related occupation of computer programmer is one of only a handful of jobs paying $75,000 or more that are expected to decline in number over the next decade. The important distinction is that software developers create the designs for computer applications based on an understanding of business requirements and other parameters. Programmers then write and test code, turning program designs into instructions a computer can follow.

The occupation of computer programmers is projected to decline by 8 percent over the next decade. One driving force is the fact that it can be outsourced to countries with lower wage scales; another is that machine learning advances will likely reduce the need for humans to complete well defined or repetitive tasks such as writing some routine pieces of code. While the lines between developers and programmers are blurred in many offices, the major divergence in future job prospects is noteworthy and indicative of shifts within the industry.

Also of interest is the list of fastest-growing occupations (as opposed to those adding the highest numbers of jobs). The number of solar photovoltaic installers is expected to more than double over the next 10 years, while wind turbine service technicians almost double. Together, the number of jobs expected to be added in those two fields is only about 17,400, but the pace of growth is impressive.

Several health fields are on the fastest-growing list, as are software developers. Other fast-growing (though typically relatively small) occupations include mathematicians, bicycle repairers, genetic counselors, forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists, and oil and gas derrick operators.

Looking at the patterns in the latest projections indicates solid job growth across most industries and occupations. Jobs that pay well and are adding significant numbers of positions over the next 10 years are concentrated in fields that require more education. Some occupations that have paid well in the past will be shrinking in the future.

Health care will continue to be a major source of new jobs, both at the upper and lower ends of the pay scale.

Of course, all of these projections are subject to a great deal of uncertainty, and typically the fastest-growing occupations a few years hence (in percentage terms) do not even exist today. Such is the dynamic nature of our technological future, with the primary lesson being that developing and enhancing high-level skills is essential to long-term career success.

— M. Ray Perryman, president and CEO of The Perryman Group in Waco, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum.

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