By TOM HAYNIE

Search the Web for economic predictions for 2012 and you will be inundated with good news, bad news and no news. Despite this confusion, you could be facing the best opportunity since the end of World War II to find your dream job. It is a matter of identifying a career that will be in demand over the next five to 10 years.

Five years ago when you flipped open your cellphone, all you could do was talk on it. Ten years ago there was no Facebook. Twenty years ago computers were DOS-based, a mouse was something the cat chased and windows were for gazing out of while you daydreamed about what you wanted to do when you grew up. Most people had never heard of the World Wide Web, and baby boomers were marveling at a machine that didn’t use a foul-smelling liquid and could make copies that were indistinguishable from the originals.

True, unemployment hasn’t been this high for more than 25 years, but work will return. What you need to know is a lot of it isn’t going to look like it did before the great recession.

An article titled “The Way We’ll Work” on Time magazine’s website states: “We will see a more flexible, more freelance, more collaborative and far less secure work world … run by a generation with new values — and women will increasingly be at the controls.” Not only is the world of work changing, but the path to get there will change as well.

In the article “High Tech, High Touch, High Growth,” the Time’s Washington correspondent Alex Altman writes: “According to consulting giant McKinsey & Co., nearly 85 percent of new jobs created between 1998 and 2006 involved complex ‘knowledge work’ like problem-solving and concocting corporate strategy. Job opportunities in mathematics and across the sciences are also expected to expand. The U.S. Department of Labor spotlights network systems and data communications as well as computer-software engineering among the occupations projected to grow most explosively by 2016. Over the next seven years, the number of jobs in the information-technology sector is expected to swell 24 percent — a figure more than twice the overall job-growth rate.”

Perhaps now more than ever it is important to chart how you are going to fit into the new labor force. Education will become increasingly important as the number of jobs that require merely a high school diploma is projected to diminish while those that demand some postsecondary education and training (beyond high school) take their place.

If you are planning on dropping out of high school and taking the GED, you will not only be competing at a significant disadvantage with better educated candidates, you will likely find it difficult even to enlist in a military that demands higher standards for its recruits. There was a time you could get your GED and enlist in the Army. That is no longer an option.

The military breaks education into three overall categories: Tier 1, where applicants have a high school diploma or 15 college credits; Tier 2 includes GEDs, home study (in some states), certificate of attendance, alternative/continuation high school, correspondence school diplomas and occupational program certificate (vocational technical schools); and Tier 3, individuals who are not attending high school and are neither high school graduates nor alternative credential holders.

The vast majority (more than 90 percent) of all enlistments are from the Tier 1 category. The Air Force limits Tier 2 recruits to less than 1 percent each year. The Army and Navy will allow as much as 10 percent. The Marines will only allow about 5 percent. The Coast Guard only accepts Tier 2 candidates if they have prior military service.

The best way to pull yourself out of the Tier 3 hole is to get at least 15 college credits and qualify for Tier 1. You will not be accepted in the military if you remain in Tier 3.

So, where are the hot jobs of the future? The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor puts out a 10-year projection. The most recent for the period 2008-2018 may hold some surprises.

“Professional and related occupations and service occupations are expected to create more new jobs than all other occupational groups from 2008 to 2018; in addition, growth will be faster among occupations for which postsecondary education is the most significant form of education or training, and, across all occupations, replacement needs will create many more job openings than will job growth,” states the BLS Occupational Employment Projections to 2018.

According to the BLS, total employment will increase by 15.3 million new jobs by 2018. With four of those years behind us and the recession still fresh on our minds, that means the next six years should see some very good opportunities.

Who’s going to fill those jobs? The BLS projects an aging and more racially diverse labor force. Because many retirement nest eggs shrank over the past five years, a lot of folks who dreamed of enjoying their golden years spending their children’s inheritance will now have to remain in the labor pool longer than they had hoped.

From an article on Time magazine’s website “Why Boomers Can’t Quit” by Stephen Gandel: “Investment firm T. Rowe Price calculates that the oldest boomers will have to delay retirement by nearly nine years in order to recover what they lost in the market. The somewhat good news is that if they defer Social Security and save 25 percent of their salary, they can reach their golden years in half the time.”

Some analysts predict that the surge of older workers in the workforce will negatively impact the unemployment rate as they don’t leave to make room for younger workers moving up. A recession usually magnifies that issue. However, as the recovery gains momentum, this could turn into a positive.

According to Time, “When more people work, more people spend freely, and that creates jobs. For example, women entering the workforce in the 1960s and ’70s didn’t cause permanently higher unemployment. … Demand for child care workers took off, the prepared-foods industry boomed. And unemployment rates in the following decades hit new lows.”

The BLS projection focuses on four areas: labor force, industry employment, occupational employment, and education and training.

LABOR FORCE

The civilian labor force will grow by 12.6 million. The demographics of this growth will continue a trend from the end of the 20th century. Broken down by age group, persons age 55 and older will make up an increasingly larger percentage of the labor force while the percentage of young people (age 16-24) and persons in the prime-age working group (age 25 to 54) will continue to reduce. (See Chart 1 from BLS News Release, Dec. 10, 2009.)

In 2018 the share of the labor force held by minorities, defined by the BLS as Hispanics, Asians and blacks, will increase significantly. While whites will remain the largest race group, this group’s growth rate will be much smaller than the growth rate of minority workers.

INDUSTRY EMPLOYMENT

The BLS projects that 96 percent of the increase in total employment will come from the service-providing sector. The two industry sectors that will provide the largest part of this growth will be professional and business services, and health care and social assistance. The goods-producing employment sector is expected to produce virtually no growth on average, with construction showing a slight increase offset by declines in manufacturing and mining.

However, don’t mourn the death of U.S. manufacturing just yet. As the world’s largest producer of goods, the U.S. produces nearly twice as much output value as No. 2, China. U.S. manufacturing output has grown by $800 billion in the last two decades. Through constantly improving technology and efficiency, American workers doubled their productivity during that period.

Bryan Stephenson, farm manager for a large commercial livestock farm in southern Utah, gives an example. “The recession forced turnover in our unskilled labor force to drop from 60 percent to 28 percent, allowing us to be more selective in the recruiting process. We’ve had to reduce staff by carving out less value-added work processes and focusing on productivity and efficiency.”

The good news for manufacturing workers in the coming years will be highly skilled workers producing high value items. Manufacturing companies have nearly exhausted their ability to ship low productivity, routine jobs overseas. But when quality matters and protection of trade secrets is at stake, companies find that keeping the jobs close to home makes sense.

Size matters too. A December 2011 Monthly Labor Review article titled “Employment growth by size class: firm and establishment data” by Dalton, Friesenhahn, Spletzer and Talan states, “From September 1992 through March 2005 establishments with fewer than 500 employees accounted for 82.6 percent of net jobs created.”

Greatest growth is projected in management, scientific and technical consulting; computer systems design; employment services; employment in physician offices; home health care; services for the elderly and persons with disabilities; and nursing care facilities. The detailed industries with the largest employment declines will be in department stores, manufacturers of semiconductors and vehicle parts.

OCCUPATIONAL EMPLOYMENT

Professional and related occupations and service occupations will provide more than half of the total employment growth by 2018. Registered nurses will lead the pack with a projected 582,000 new jobs, followed by home health aides at 461,000 and customer service representatives at 400,000. Of the 30 fastest-growing detailed occupations, 27 are in professional and related occupations and service occupations with 17 of those related to health care and medical research. (See Table A.)

If you don’t find your opportunity in Table A, don’t be discouraged. The BLS projects that, in total, 577 occupations are expected to show increasing employment, resulting in more than 16.6 million new jobs by 2018. Only 173 occupations are expected to decline, losing 1.4 million jobs. For further information, see the November 2009 Monthly Labor Review and additional publications on the BLS website.

Even though baby boomers will have to work longer to offset their retirement losses, they are still getting older. While health care is one of the traditional recession resistant occupations, an aging population means additional medical needs. Construction and staffing of senior communities, assisted living facilities and nursing homes, as well as hospitals and medical clinics, will have to expand.

An aging population isn’t the only factor that will demand an increase in health care workers. An article in the January 2012 edition of Scientific American entitled “Five Hidden Dangers of Obesity” states that obesity, defined as being 20 percent heavier than the high side of normal, is on the rise. “According to one estimate, the U.S. will be home to 65 million more obese people in 2030 than it is today, leading to an additional 6 million more cases of heart disease and stroke and another 8 million cases of type 2 diabetes.”

John R. Skeen, president and majority shareholder of Bliss and Skeen, a CPA firm in Olympia, Wash., has already seen the trend in health care among his clients.

“It started on the East Coast and has been spreading across the country,” Skeen said. “Take dentistry, for example. It used to be that a dental practice consisted of a dentist, a dental assistant and one or two dental hygienists. Fueled by reductions in insurance reimbursements, dentists are coming together to merge practices. This creates jobs for medical support personnel.”

While the dentist focuses on major work like fillings, crowns and surgeries, hygienists and assistants feed the practice by doing routine tasks like cleanings, where more serious problems are discovered. More routine tasks performed results in the discovery of the need for more crowns and surgeries.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

Nearly half of total new jobs and a third of total job openings will require a postsecondary degree or award. The fastest growth in educational requirements will be occupations that demand an associate degree followed by those that require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

While short and moderate term on-the-job training will remain a significant source of postsecondary education or training for jobs projected to grow, the greatest number will be in the health care and related occupations. Of the 30 detailed occupations that will decline, 27 require only short-term or moderate-term on-the-job training as the significant source of postsecondary education or training. The majority of declines in the on-the-job training category will be in production occupations.

So, what do you do? Start now with research. The new BLS projections for employment growth and decline for the 2010-2020 decade will come out on Feb. 1, 2012. Determine what you want to do and investigate. Look at where the hot jobs are going to be and decide if it is time to make some changes. If you’re having difficulty finding a job in the same field to replace the one you lost, or you have a job but you are ready to make a career change, this could be a great opportunity to retool your skill set and take advantage of the millions of new opportunities on the horizon.

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