Thursday, January 7, 2016

Winners and Losers in the New Occupational Outlook Handbook

This week I sent in the manuscript of the 2016–2017 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook for JIST Career Solutions. Before you can lay your hands on it, the book still needs to go through editing, page layout, printing, and distribution—unless you’re content to peruse it on the website of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Note that the online version lacks some bonus chapters that are available exclusively from JIST.)

Now that I’ve had a chance to look at the contents in detail, I thought it would be interesting to observe the differences between this edition and the one of two years ago. These differences provide insights into important changes in our economy.

One important change is the selection of occupations to be profiled in the OOH. The book has never tried to cover in full detail every occupation in the workforce. Occupations are excluded (apart from a table with a handful of facts) when they have very few workers. So, for example, you will not find a profile of Hearing Aid Specialists, even though it is projected to grow by an impressive 27 percent, because it employs only about 5,900 workers. In some cases, two or more relatively small occupations are lumped together under a single umbrella term. For example, the OOH profile on Police and Detectives actually covers four law-enforcement occupations: Detectives and Criminal Investigators; Fish and Game Wardens; Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers; and Transit and Railroad Police.

Therefore, if an occupation gets dropped between one edition and the next, you could reasonably assume that the occupation has shrunk—or is expected to shrink—to the point where it is not significant in the economy.

But some instances surprised me. Among the occupations that have been dropped from the new edition is Printing Workers. This occupation employed 276,000 workers in 2012. By 2014 it had shrunk to 260,700 workers, and it is projected to employ only 223,100 in 2024—but that is still a very large number. Compare that to Podiatrists, which employs only 9,600 in 2004 and is projected to reach only 11,000 by 2024.

Even more surprising was the omission of Maids and Housekeeping Cleaners. This occupation has a huge workforce: 1,457,700 employed in 2014, with 1,569,400 projected for 2024. I think possibly this occupation was dropped because it is associated with one sex only. It might have been lumped together with Janitors in the profile called Janitors and Building Cleaners—but it wasn’t.

Some blue-collar occupations that occupied their own profiles in the previous edition are now lumped together into a single profile. For example, Cement Masons and Terrazzo Workers got lumped together with Brickmasons, Blockmasons, and Stonemasons under the title Masonry Workers. It’s easier to create these big-tent occupations when the work tasks and preparation routes for the component specializations are reasonably similar.

Conversely, some occupations have broken free of a partnership in the previous edition and now have separate profiles of their own. This happened to Athletic Trainers and Exercise Physiologists; Human Resources Specialists and Labor Relations Specialists; and Purchasing Managers, Buyers, and Purchasing Agents. The last of these has been split at the first comma, and it makes sense to separate out the managerial specialization and move it alongside other managerial occupations (such as Sales Managers).

No completely new occupations were added to the current edition in the way that Solar Photovoltaic Installers and Wind Turbine Technicians were added in 2014. Will we see Drone Pilot or Genome Editor in the 2018 edition?

In my next blog, I’ll discuss how the outlook has changed for certain occupations.


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