Thursday, January 14, 2016

This Year’s Biggest Changes in Outlook

Early last month, the Employment Projections office at the Department of Labor released its projections for the decade from 2014 to 2024. Later in the same month, the BLS released the text of the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), which was based in part on those projections. Both of these resources are updated every two years, and I thought you’d be as interested as I am in seeing which occupations have the forecasts that are the most greatly revised from the previous update.

The economic models that BLS uses are not foolproof. Sometimes new data comes in that makes the economists at BLS realize they have significantly overestimated or underestimated the growth an occupation can expect. The outlook may change for many reasons, such as new developments in technology, international trade, consumer tastes, or the formulas Medicare uses in reimbursing health-care providers. For an understanding of what may have changed, I find it useful to look at the “Job Outlook” section text of the OOH statement (article) about an occupation, comparing the wording in the previous edition to the wording that appears there now. (You can make the same comparisons by looking at the previous OOH edition stored in the Wayback Machine site.) But often it’s hard to find a good explanation of what accounts for the revised forecast.

A useful example is Wind Turbine Technicians. This is the occupation with the greatest increase in its projected growth: from a formidable 24 percent growth projected for 2012–2022 to an amazing 108 percent projected for 2014–2024. However, the OOH outlook wording has changed very little between the previous edition’s statement and the current edition’s. The major difference is that only the previous edition has this wording: “In addition, the Renewable Electricity Standard calls for 25 percent of U.S. electric power generation to come from renewable sources by 2025, which should further drive employment growth.” Although the new edition doesn’t mention the Renewable Electricity Standard, presumably this commitment is continuing to drive growth, but it’s interesting to note that the number of states with this standard in place has not increased over the past three years—both then and now, it came to 29 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories. A change that may be more relevant to the revised forecast appears in the wording regarding offshore wind turbines. The current edition lacks a cautionary sentence that appears in the previous edition: “However, the high cost of building wind towers in the ocean may inhibit new offshore projects from being approved.” Still, I wonder whether the cost of building offshore turbines has fallen enough to make this sentence no longer necessary.

I don’t want to make too much of this apparent disconnect between the greatly changed numbers and the mostly unchanged prose. The outlook section notes that this is a very small occupation (in fact, employing only 4,400 workers in 2014), so the sextupling of projected new job openings, from 800 to 4,800, still does not represent a large number of new opportunities.

Something similar seems to have happened with another small occupation, Forensic Science Technicians. In the past two years, its ten-year job-growth projection has soared upward from 6 percent to 27 percent. However, the OOH outlook section has changed little from the previous edition. In fact, the main difference is that only the latest edition offers this advisory sentence: “Larger police departments will be more able to staff full-time forensic science technicians, but they, too, may face budget constraints.” Again, both editions note that this is a very small occupation (with 14,400 workers in 2014), so relatively small changes in the economy can cause a large change in outlook without actually creating a comparably large number of new jobs.

Not all the occupations with greatly changed forecasts were those with small workforces. For example, Personal Care Aides (1.8 million workers) had its growth projection cut almost by half: from 49 percent to 26 percent. Yet, again, the text of the OOH outlook section shows almost no revision, except for the removal of the word “companionship” (as one of the functions of the occupation) in two places and the removal of this paragraph: “Clients often prefer to be cared for in their own homes, rather than a home care facility or hospital. Studies have found that home treatment is frequently more effective than care in a nursing home or hospital.”

Another large occupation with a big change in forecast is Market Research Analysts, which was projected to grow by 32 percent for 2012–2022 but only by 19 percent for 2014–2024. In the wording of the OOH outlook section, there is one hint of a reason for this change. The following sentence was cut from the current OOH: “Rapid employment growth in most industries means good job opportunities should be available.” This deletion reflects the overall downward forecast for job growth: The projection for all occupations changed from 10.8 percent to 6.5 percent. I compared the old projections with the new ones and found a mean (unweighted) change of -5.5 percentage points.

Nevertheless, for occupations that had greatly changed forecasts, I would appreciate a better indication in the OOH outlook section of what factors have changed expectations.

Here is a list of the 20 OOH occupations that had the greatest revisions (either upward or downward) in their projections for job growth.

Projection for 
Job Growth
Wind Turbine Technicians
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers 
and Cardiovascular Technologists 
and Technicians, Including Vascular 
Market Research Analysts
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, 
and Nurse Practitioners
Mental Health Counselors and 
Marriage and Family Therapists
Skincare Specialists
Insulation Workers
Medical Equipment Repairers
Political Scientists
Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners
Personal Care Aides
Software Developers
Health Educators and Community 
Health Workers
Surveying and Mapping Technicians
Radiologic and MRI Technologists
Pest Control Workers
Forensic Science Technicians
Nursing Assistants and Orderlies
Bill and Account Collectors

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.