Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Importance of Outlook Information

In my new book 2011 Career Plan, which comes out this month, I focus on industries and occupations that are projected to have high growth. This week, I fielded an inquiry from a journalist who wanted to know whether growth projections are actually useful in career advice. Read on to see what I told him.

First of all, to understand the outlook for an occupation you’re considering, you have to be careful not to go solely by the figure for growth. You also need to pay attention to the projected number of job openings. Growth and openings are not the same thing. Consider the occupation Hydrologists, which is projected to grow at the outstanding rate of 31.6 percent. There should be lots of opportunities in such a fast-growing job, right? Not exactly. This is a tiny occupation, with only about 8,000 people currently employed, so although it is growing rapidly, it will not create many new jobs (about 1,000 per year). Now consider Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Vocational Education. This occupation is growing at the sluggish rate of 5.6 percent. Nevertheless, this is a huge occupation that employs more than one million workers, so although its growth rate is unimpressive, it is expected to take on more than 93,000 new workers each year as existing workers retire, die, or move on to other jobs.

In fact, some very large occupations have so much job turnover that they provide tens of thousands of job openings even though they’re shrinking in size. Size of the workforce is not the only cause. Occupations that are easy to get into and/or low-paying are also easy to walk away from, so Home Health Aides, for example, has huge turnover. Contemplating such career options, you have to ask yourself whether you’re looking for a long-term career or a job where most people sojourn only briefly.

Next, consider the possibility of local variation. A national boom in an occupation may bypass your region. You really need to check with local employers to get a sense of the local outlook, unless you’re planning to cast a nationwide net in your job search. Something similar applies to variation by occupational .specialization. Here again, it helps to talk to employers in the specialization that interests you.

Then there’s the question of personal satisfactions. It’s true that you won’t get any satisfactions (earnings, working in your interest field, leadership, helping others, prestige--you name it) from work if you don’t have work. This is one reason why job opportunity is so important. However, if your personality is comfortable with taking risks, you may strive for an occupation with a somewhat poorer-than-average outlook because of the potential for a high payoff in satisfactions.

When I write my books, I don’t encourage people to defy the odds, because the books are aimed to do the most good for the greatest number of readers. However, there are always people who are the exceptions to the rule, who beat all the competition and get the job even though only a handful of openings are available. (Maybe you saw the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.”) These people either are risk-takers or they have extraordinary abilities or credentials. They are uncommon enough that I don’t usually address them in my books. If they do read one of my books, they probably have enough well-earned self-confidence to be able to ignore my warnings about limited job opportunities.

Another minority of readers whom I choose to neglect are those interested in doing work that almost nobody else wants to do. They may be willing to pursue a highly specialized occupation, such as repairing antique clocks and watches, or an occupation with work conditions that almost everyone else finds repulsive, such as cleaning up houses where obsessive cat collectors have lived and died. The job outlook for such occupations is actually good because there is almost zero competition for job openings, but the number of job openings is so minuscule that the occupations are not worth including in a book of general interest. Like the ├╝bermenschen I discussed in the previous paragraph, these uncommon people probably will find their way to their obscure career goal without needing my help.

So, in conclusion, outlook figures are very useful, but be aware of figures for both growth and openings, verify them as they apply to your region and specialization, decide how much risk you’re willing to undertake, and weigh how much you’re willing to do the unconventional.

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