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

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Skills Needed for the Fastest-Growing Occupations

In December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued the latest update of its employment projections, covering the changes in workforce size that the BLS economists anticipate will occur between 2012 and 2022. I thought it would be interesting to see what skills dominate the occupations that will be growing fastest.

Here’s how I analyzed the data. First, using ratings from the O*NET database, I determined the level of skill required for each occupation covered by the employment projections. Then I multiplied the skill ratings of each occupation by the number of jobs that will be added for that occupation between 2012 and 2022. So, if an occupation is rated high on a skill and is a fast-growing occupation, the product of the skill rating and the growth figure (the “skill-job-growth product”) will be quite high. Finally, I summed the skill-job-growth products for each skill and sorted these sums into descending order. This produced a listing that showed which skills dominate the highest-growth occupations.

Here’s my list:

Rank
Skill
Skill-Job-Growth Product
1
Active Listening
52,729,916
2
Reading Comprehension
52,477,840
3
Critical Thinking
52,070,493
4
Speaking
51,481,774
5
Monitoring
49,815,058
6
Coordination
48,419,005
7
Social Perceptiveness
48,027,434
8
Writing
47,574,077
9
Service Orientation
47,178,353
10
Judgment and Decision Making
45,943,172
11
Active Learning
45,815,111
12
Time Management
44,982,511
13
Complex Problem Solving
44,624,404
14
Instructing
43,671,844
15
Persuasion
42,696,089
16
Learning Strategies
42,436,634
17
Negotiation
39,703,938
18
Management of Personnel Resources
39,210,957
19
Systems Evaluation
36,952,808
20
Systems Analysis
36,259,478
21
Mathematics
35,148,591
22
Operation Monitoring
30,301,912
23
Quality Control Analysis
27,595,984
24
Operations Analysis
22,708,414
25
Operation and Control
21,719,737
26
Management of Material Resources
21,601,778
27
Management of Financial Resources
19,478,547
28
Troubleshooting
19,330,105
29
Science
17,922,486
30
Technology Design
12,142,746
31
Equipment Selection
10,927,713
32
Equipment Maintenance
9,387,298
33
Repairing
8,946,558
34
Programming
8,935,518
35
Installation
4,495,964

Why is Active Listening in first place? My guess is that this happens because of the rapid growth that is projected for health-care occupations and service occupations. Also note the high rankings of Monitoring, Social Perceptiveness, and Service Orientation, and think in terms of the fastest-growing health-care occupations, such as Registered Nurses, which is projected to add 526,800 workers, and Home Health Aides, 424,200 workers.

The workforce of the future will need excellent communications skills. In addition to Active Listening, note the high rankings of Reading Comprehension, Speaking, and Writing. We may be doing more video communication than ever before, but verbal skills will remain crucial.

It’s also intriguing to note the high ranking of Critical Thinking. Nowadays information is easier than ever to obtain but varies wildly in quality. To do our jobs well, we must be capable of separating good ideas from rumor, ideological bias, and “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Given the third-place showing of Critical Thinking, it’s ironic that the teaching of this skill in our schools is receiving some political push-back in one of our most populous states.

A related idea is that we will need to be learning constantly to keep abreast of changes in technology and business practices. This explains the fairly high ranking of Active Learning and Learning Strategies, not to mention the reading and communications skills that are usually involved in learning. In addition, many workers will be involved in teaching others, so it’s no surprise to find Instructing in 14th place.

Although many of the high-ranked skills are needed by managers, it’s interesting to observe that the three resource-management skills come in much lower. Even the self-management skill Time Management does not make the top 10. Managerial occupations are projected to grow by only 7 percent, less than the average of 11 percent.

You may be especially surprised to see Programming second from the bottom. Isn’t there going to be a lot of growth in high-tech occupations? To be sure, the computer occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent and add 651,300 jobs. However, in most of these occupations, Programming is less important than other skills. For example, for Computer Systems Analysts, O*NET gives higher skill ratings to Reading Comprehension, Critical Thinking, and Quality Control Analysis. For Software Developers, Applications, O*NET gives higher ratings to Troubleshooting. And let’s not forget that one of the computer occupations with the most growth, Computer User Support Specialists (adding 110,800 jobs), has very low demands for Programming skill (it ranks 30th).

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Medical Scribe: Emergence of a New Occupation?

Yesterday’s New York Times carried an article about what may be an emerging occupation: the scribe who inputs medical records while a physician interacts with a patient.

The need for these workers arose because of a provision of the Affordable Care Act: the requirement that physicians keep electronic records of patients and use these in exchanges of information. The purported reason is to reduce paperwork and administrative costs, but another important consideration is the ability of researchers to use the digitized data in (anonymized) records to study the effectiveness of various medical interventions. I could add a third reason: data security. Although it is often assumed that paper records are more secure than electronic records because of the risks of computer hacking, paper cannot be as easily stored offsite in redundant copies. (I learned of this vulnerability when my all of my daughter's medical records were lost at her pediatrician’s office.)

Before electronic records, physicians either jotted down notes or dictated comments into a voice recorder for later transcription to paper, perhaps by a medical assistant. Some physicians resent the switch to electronic records because keying data into a laptop during interactions with patients pulls physicians’ attention in two directions at once. They find that the nature of their job has moved away from the work tasks that drew them into this profession.

Medical scribes relieve physicians of these duties by being the one holding and using the laptop during interactions with patients. Scribes key in all of the information produced during sessions with patients, freeing physicians to give patients their undivided attention. Obviously, there is a monetary cost to hiring these workers, but it is offset by the amount of time scribes save for physicians (an average of three minutes per patient visit, according to one study cited in the Times article), which allows physicians to see more patients over the course of the day. That’s not to mention how medical scribes change the nature of physicians’ work tasks by removing the clerical element.

On the other hand, having a third person present during every session with a patient may reduce the feeling of privacy that exists between physician and patient. Another study cited in the article found that, in clinical settings, “roughly 10 percent of patients were uncomfortable with having the scribe present.”

One company that provides medical scribes to hospitals and medical practices estimates that almost 10,000 scribes are now at work, and businesses such as ScribeAmerica and PhysAssist Scribes have been established to meet the growing demand. These companies train the scribes in a program that takes about two or three weeks.

But is this a new occupation, or merely a specialization within an existing occupation, medical assistants? It would be easier to recognize as a distinct occupation if it had a formal educational credential. However, I would argue that it is an occupation in its own right because its work tasks are highly specific. It is unlikely that medical assistants are dividing their workdays to handle these tasks part of the time or that some of the work time of medical scribes is being diverted to doing tasks that medical assistants perform, such as measuring patients’ vital signs or scheduling appointments.

My guess is that this occupation will flourish for a few years but that voice-recognition software will eventually be adapted to the specific needs of recording data from sessions with patients. Some physicians are already using voice-recognition software in limited ways.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Employment Projections, Then and Now

Last month, the Employment Projections office of the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their projections for the period from 2012 to 2022, and I was interested to note how these projections differ from those that BLS made two years ago, for the period 2010 to 2020. Overall, the outlook is a little less rosy than it was in the last round of projections. The workforce as a whole is projected to grow by 10.8 percent; two years ago, the projection was 14.3 percent.

Two years ago, the nation was just starting to climb out of its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Apparently, the high hopes of that time have been scaled back somewhat.

Here is a table showing the changes in the outlook for the major groups of industries:

Industry Group
Projection  
2010-20
Percent)
Projection  
2012-22
(Percent)
Difference
Agriculture, forestry,
     fishing, and hunting
-3.6
-1.9
1.7
Mining, quarrying, and
     oil and gas extraction
3.8
15.1
11.3
Utilities
-6.5
-10.2
-3.7
Construction
33.3
28.8
-4.5
Wholesale trade
13.6
8.3
-5.3
Information
5.2
-2.4
-7.6
Finance and insurance
8.9
8.6
-0.3
Real estate and
     rental and leasing
14.2
12.8
-1.4
Professional, scientific,
     and technical services
28.7
23.1
-5.6
Management of companies
     and enterprises
5.5
2.6
-2.9
Administrative and
     support and waste
     management and remediation
21.3
20
-1.3
Educational services;
     State, local, and private
13.6
9.4
-4.2
Health care and
     social assistance
32.7
27.8
-4.9
Arts, entertainment,
     and recreation
17.8
11.1
-6.7
Accommodation and food
     services
9
9.1
0.1
Other services (except
     public administration)
13.5
10.5
-3
Government
1.6
-0.8
-2.4
Federal government
-12.5
-14.5
-2

The industry with the biggest change in outlook is Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction. It is expected to do much better than thought previously, thanks to the boom in oil and gas extraction. But it is the only industry with a major upward revision. Two other industries (Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting; and Accommodation and Food Services) have had very minor upward revisions to their projections.

All the other projections in this set have been revised downward. Of these, the most severe change is to the outlook for Information. Understand that this does not primarily mean information technology; rather, it refers to what is more commonly known as “the media”: publishing (including software publishing), news, and telecommunications. As someone working in the information industry, I can assure you that many jobs are being lost. Your local newspaper is much thinner these days than it was a decade ago, and this slimming-down is reflected in its staff roster.

The only other industry that actually went from positive to negative territory—that is, it was expected to expand modestly but now is expected to shrink—is Government. Keep this in mind the next time you hear a politician or commentator bloviating about how our government is growing too rapidly.

If you want to read about the revised forecasts for specific occupations, you are in luck: Tomorrow, the BLS will release the newest edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook on the Web. Over the next few days, I will be working intensively to repurpose this Web content as a printed reference for JIST Publishing, replacing the previous edition on the shelves of libraries and career counselors. (The print edition will include some bonus chapters that you can’t find on the Web.) Some new occupations that you’ll find in this forthcoming edition are Solar Photovoltaic Installers; Wind Turbine Technicians; Phlebotomists; and Fundraisers.

I have surveyed the career information publications of other countries, and I can attest that we are very lucky to have a resource as excellent as the OOH. Government is shrinking, and it gets a lot of bad press in certain quarters, but it still does some things very well.