Students and job seekers everywhere are asking the same question: “Will the career I’m pursuing today still need me a year from now?”
Though nobody can predict tomorrow’s hot jobs with absolute certainty, author and futurist Daniel Pink believes you can make a pretty good guess. In his bestseller A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Pink lays out a thought-provoking formula for determining which careers will grow, and which will fade away.
Right brain leads
“Today you’ve got to look at what you’re doing and ask yourself three key questions,” he says. “Can someone overseas do it cheaper? Can a computer do it faster? And does what you offer satisfy the growing esthetic, emotional and even spiritual demands of this very abundant age?” According to Pink, the jobs that meet these needs tend not to be the left-brain careers – logical, sequential, analytical work like assembling or accounting. Instead, the jobs of the future will be based on right-brain skills like creativity, empathy and the ability to detect broad patterns rather than deliver specific answers.
Employment predictions from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest Pink may be onto something. Quintessential right-brain jobs like healthcare workers, teachers, artists and salespeople are among those slated for the fastest growth in the next decade. And the list of jobs expected to decrease includes many that depend on left-brain skills, like machine operators, packagers and stock clerks.
Left brain follows
But that doesn’t mean everyone should drop their left-brain job to pursue right-brain work. “I would never say, ‘Design is important, so you should go become a designer,’” Pink says. “Because if you don’t like design, you’re going to be a lousy designer.
“Meanwhile, even though certain kinds of accounting functions can be reduced to a software program like Turbotax, someone who goes into accounting because they love it is going to be fine. You really need to figure out what you love to do, and what it is you’re great at, and focus on that, rather than trying to overpredict what’s going to be in demand. Ten years ago, most people didn’t even know what a search engine optimizer was. Yet today that’s a pretty decent job.”
Though his theories imply that a number of common careers will gradually go extinct, Pink is optimistic about the future. “In 1965, President Johnson convened a commission of the very best labor economists of the time, and they looked ahead to the job market in the year 2000,” he says.
“They wrote this very alarming report, saying there’s going to be massive unemployment because computers are going to be able to do everything. And that was flatly wrong, because it didn’t take into account our endless ability to create new industries and offer up new jobs.
“And I don’t see any reason why that’s going to fall away. So do I think there’s going to be enough of these right-brain jobs? Yes. Do I know exactly what they’re going to be? No. But I’m mostly optimistic because I’ve looked at past history and it’s always worked out. Especially in this country, the future has always been better than the past.”
Best and Worst Careers by the Numbers
Productivity gains, job automation and international competition have dealt a crushing blow to American manufacturing. Overall employment in this industry is projected to decline by 10.6 percent, or 1.5 million jobs, by 2016. Machinery, apparel, household appliance and computer and electronics manufacturing will be hit especially hard. But there is a small bright side: Employment in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing is expected to grow by 23.8 percent and add 69,000 new jobs by 2016.
Education and health services
The population is aging, life expectancies are growing, and student enrollment is increasing at all levels of education. So it’s no surprise that education and health services are projected to grow more than any other industry. Between 2006 and 2016, they’re projected to add nearly 5.5 million new jobs. Healthcare and social services will account for 4 million of these jobs, with public and private educational services adding another 1.4 million. Registered nurses, home health aides and post-secondary teachers will be among the occupations with the largest growth.
Professional and business services
Technology is transforming business, leading to increasing complexity and a growing need for expert assistance. That’s why professional and business services are projected to grow by 23.3 percent and add 4.1 million new jobs by 2016. This industry group includes fast-growing jobs in administrative support, employment services, computer systems design, consulting services and waste management.
Leisure and hospitality
The population is growing, dual-income families are increasing, and food and entertainment options are springing up everywhere. These trends drive projections of 14.3 percent growth in leisure and hospitality, which translates to around 2 million new jobs by 2016. Jobs will be especially plentiful in the amusement, gambling, recreation, accommodation and food services sectors.