In the 30-plus years that I have been writing about careers, I have focused mostly on occupations and, to a lesser extent, on college majors. But lately I have achieved a new appreciation for the value of considering careers from the viewpoint of industries. If you are thinking about a career move, you may want to think about industries and consult the sources I have found useful.
One reason that I have directed most of my attention to occupations is that this is where a great wealth of information is to be found. Resources such as the O*NET database, the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Occupational Employment Statistics wage estimates, and the FedScope database of government jobs all present information in terms of occupations and offer valuable information about career options.
Of course, part of a career decision is learning how to prepare for a career move, and the preparation pathway to many occupations runs through a college degree. As a result, I have also researched college majors for many of my books. Not as many information resources are available for college majors as for occupations—I have relied on college catalogues and the National Survey of College Graduates—and these require a lot of analysis to yield useful facts.
By comparison, I have written very little about industries and done much less research in that field until this summer, when I undertook a project for Vault.com to write descriptions of 19 industries, such as Architecture, Animation, Elder Care, and Wholesale. If you have noticed that my blogs have been appearing less frequently of late, it was because my work schedule on this project has kept me very busy. But let me share some of what I have learned.
(If the following looks too tedious to you, go directly to Vault, where the most relevant of this information is distilled.)
One of the most valuable resources for learning about industries is the Census Bureau’s Industry Statistics Sampler pages. On the main page, click on an industry sector and drill down to the particular one that interests you. For example, if you’re interested in the software publishing industry, click the "More" arrow next to 51 Information. (The 51 is a classification number from the North American Industry Classification System [NAICS], the taxonomy that the government uses to classify all industries.) This takes you to the Industry Statistics Sampler for the Information industry. Like all two-digit industries in NAICS, it is a very large group, but you’ll find a tab called 2007 Census: Employers & Nonemployers. Click this, and you’ll see a table of information that covers not only the two-digit industry Information, but also all the three-digit, more-detailed industries within Information.
Click on 511 Publishing Industries (except Internet), and you’ll drill down to the Industry Statistics Sampler for that more-detailed industry. Once again, the tab called 2007 Census: Employers & Nonemployers will lead you to a table, this time covering all the four-digit industry sectors of the publishing industry. One of these is 5112 Software publishers. Click this, and you’ll finally get down to the Industry Statistics Sampler with the very specific level of detail for that industry sector. Click on the various tabs to retrieve tables with information such as the number of establishments, the dollar volume of sales, the payroll, the number of paid employees, and historical data on these topics. The last of these may be most interesting to you because it indicates trends. Try playing with the figures—for example, seeing whether the average number of workers per establishment has gone up or down.
The tab called 2007 Economic Census: Links to AFF (i.e., American Fact Finder) leads to links that can retrieve some very informative tables. For example, you can find where firms are clustered geographically or how business is divided among the various size firms—for example, whether industry sales are dominated by a few very big players.
The tab called 2007 Economic Census: Product Lines provides helpful information about the mix of products the industry outputs, both as dollar figures and percentages.
Turning away from the Census pages, another very useful database of information about industries is the National Employment Matrix of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which can tell you what growth is projected for the workforce of the industry. The figures tell not only what growth to expect for the industry as a whole but also for individual occupations within the industry. These occupational projections can differ markedly; for example, the outlook for Accountants and Auditors in nursing care facilities is 11.7 percent growth, compared to –21.7 percent in newspaper publishing.
Another database within BLS is the Occupational Employment Statistics survey, which despite the name does have figures for industries. Go to the May 2012 National Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates page and drill down to the specific industry that interest you. This tells you not only what the wages are across the whole industry and for individual occupations within it, but also how many people from each occupation are employed in the industry.
Information like this might help you decide what specialization to pursue within an occupation. It might guide your selection of a minor in college or which employers you focus on in your job search.
My final recommendation for researching industries is to turn to industry associations. Search the Web for “[name of industry] association” and you are likely to uncover one or several groups that represent the field. Understand that these groups are in business mostly to promote the industry, and they usually are eager for you to become a dues-paying member or take one of their certification courses. In fact, some industry association websites do little else but offer these options. On the other hand, many industry association websites feature news and even career tips about the industry. Filter the information through your critical thinking skills, recognizing that the industry representatives may be projecting a biased viewpoint. If more than one group represents the industry, you probably should compare their differing takes on the industry and its environment.