Arnold Kling  

Jobs, Progress, and Displacement

Oil Reserves and Backwardation... Bond Market Vigilantes...

Bruce Bartlett pointed to a Dallas Fed analysis of the causes and consequences of higher productivity. One of the sections, on the evolution of work, says

The United States will continue to move up the hierarchy of human talents as it becomes more productive. Fewer jobs at relatively lower pay will be available for those who offer employers only muscle power, manual dexterity or formulaic intelligence. Americans who want to prepare for the better jobs of the future will concentrate on developing their creativity, imagination, people skills and emotional intelligence.

The article cites data for 1992-2002 showing that large increase in jobs occurred in nursing, engineering, and design. Declines occurred in secretarial work, sewing machine operators, and farm workers.

For Discussion. If you had an 18-year old child, what career choice would you recommend?

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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Marco Parillo writes:

What characteristics would you want:
- Good current low-end salaries
- Opportunities for hitting the jackpot
- Physical presence required (or a strong union that can prevent offshoring)
- Good Barriers to Entry (for others)

I think the law is pretty strong on all four of my criteria.

Marco Parillo writes:

I forgot to add another criterion: unlimited demand. Was it Mark Twain who said that in a town with one lawyer there was no work, but in a town with two lawyers, both would be overworked?

Walker writes:

Anything in health care is a good solid bet. Health care, for the most part, is tough to offshore and has limited susceptibility to foreign competition, so it is a safe choice. Also, the need to take care of the boomers will mean that the industry will expand.

Chuck writes:

"An 18-year old child" is an oxymoron. I'm not just being a wise-ass. By the time the "kid" is 18, he has developed certain talents and exploited particular aptitudes while letting others wither on the vine.

But, if I were suddenly put in charge of an 18 year old relative (say, his parents died suddenly) this would be my advice:

Develop your quantitative skills. Quantitative reasoning is a very mutable skill set and it makes you highly adaptable for the labor market.

Also, make sure you come out of college with the ability to write a decent, grammatical paragraph.

If you do those things, you'll be ahead of 95% of the population (and likely compensated accordingly).

Dave writes:

Applicable to almost any career: learn as many foreign languages as possible. Spanish is a good default and relatively easy to learn. On the other end of the spectrum is one of the Chinese dialects, such as Mandarin or Cantonese. If you can make yourself reasonably fluent in a difficult to learn, high-demand language, you'll have no problem getting hired overseas for a high wage, nearly regardless of your other training.

Ed writes:

Engineering or science, if the aptitude exists. The increasing productivity which is causing these shifts is the result of the application of science and technology to the solution of problems. Continual increases in productivity will require continual development and implementation of improved methods and tools.

Bernard Yomtov writes:

Being a secretary, a sewing machine operator, or a farmer. That would keep them away from those careers.

Lawrance George Lux writes:

It is time to become a Waterwalker. The next step is not going to be Health or Communications. I would suggest any type of physical engineer-Structural, Mechanical, Fluids, etc. The next Wave is going to be Sonics and Composites. The Child who depends on the current trends of Today will fail. The Health industry will lose high Profitability, or lose high numbers of Patients. Traditional Energy fields will fail, as Fuel contraints will demand alternate Energy source development. Bio-tech will fail, as new development face decreasing Marginal returns over established Drugs. Communication technology is Today driven by manufactured outdating, a source of funds losing effectiveness. lgl

forgetting writes:


John P. writes:

If the child is smart enough to do well at a good law school, I would recommend law. The practice of high-end business law pays quite well, can be very satisfying, and (IMO) adds significant value. The demand for such legal services does not show any signs of weakening.

Rob Szarka writes:

Creativity? Imagination? People skills? Prostittue, obviously.

sudhir writes:

Share-of-wallet of healthcare and education shows no signs of decreasing over a person's lifecycle. These should be good bets - as doctors/paramedics/nurses or academics/teachers. Else, the entertainment and hospitality industries - tourism, hotels etc also are likley to stay strong and are un-offshoreble.

Dr. Tom Drake writes:

Good career choices would be fireman, policeman,
military, technical aspects of transportation and construction. Medical technology but only if they are the sort of people who recognize incipient change and can move quickly.

Only if they are extremely intelligent and practical too would I recommend more education than two years in a community college or technical school to learn a trade.

Wages for people in those career paths will rise faster than inflation, and the jobs aren't going to China or India.

Robert Schwartz writes:

My Kids are 22, 19, and 17. Would they listen to me? No. Should they listen to me. Probably not. I do not have the gift of prophecy. They should probably do what ever they want to do. Life is too short.

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