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Forecasting the future job market

Brian Underwood

What do meteorologists and employment analysts have in common?

Both need thick skin to deflect the criticism that often comes their way when inaccurately forecasting future conditions.

Predicting the jobs or skills that will be in demand years from now is, to be sure, a tricky task. However, for students who are interested in obtaining strategic information to help them ponder their educational choices, there are some great resources to help them catch a glimpse into the future. The challenging part is sifting through all of them.



One of the most recognizable employment indexes is the Labor Department’s 10-year forecast, known as the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which shares a vast amount of information on hundreds of occupations.

Specifically, this publication provides information on the nature of what certain careers are all about, the type of work environment they offer, what it takes to become engaged in one of these careers, compensation levels, and growth projections for them.



The current edition of the Occupational Handbook, which is available online at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/, outlines more than 300 jobs in 45 categories. This site offers some extremely useful search features that allow visitors to select occupations by median pay (in 2010), education level, level of on-the-job training, and the number of new jobs as well as the percentage increase anticipated for certain jobs for the current decade.

Additionally, the search filters not only allow users to conduct queries on a variety of topics, the results yield other useful information at the same time. For example, a search for the careers with the fastest growth rate during the next decade will not only yield an alphabetized list of those careers, but it also will show the education level required, the median pay, and the total number of new jobs anticipated.

Each career comes with a link that profiles the occupation. The profile includes a “Quick Facts” section that outlines a variety of statistical facts, as well as related links to job outlook, similar occupations, key characteristics of workers and occupations for each career.

A sample query of careers with 1) 29-percent growth rate or higher in the next decade, 2) adding 50,000 jobs by 2020, 3) requiring a Bachelor’s Degree, and 4) earning a $55,000 median salary revealed the following four careers. The additional data about these careers comes directly from the links created for these careers by the Labor Department.

Software developers: They are the creative minds behind computer programs. Some develop the applications that allow people to do specific tasks on a computer or other devices. Others develop the underlying systems that run the devices or control networks.

Software developers usually have a bachelor’s degree, typically in computer science, software engineering, or a related field. A degree in mathematics is also acceptable. Computer science degree programs are the most common, because they tend to cover a broad range of topics.

Students should focus on classes related to building software in order to better prepare themselves for work in the occupation. For some positions, employers may prefer a master’s degree. Median salary: $90,530.

Personal finance advisers: Give financial advice to people by helping them with investments, taxes, and insurance decisions.

Personal financial advisers typically need a bachelor’s degree. Although employers usually do not require a specific field of study for personal financial advisors, a degree in finance, economics, accounting, business, mathematics, or law is good preparation for this occupation. Courses in investments, taxes, estate planning, and risk management are also helpful. Programs in financial planning are becoming more available in colleges and universities. Median salary: $64,750

Market research analysts: Market research analysts study market conditions in local, regional, or national areas to examine potential sales of a product or service. They help companies understand what products people want, who will buy them, and at what price.

Market research analysts typically need a bachelor’s degree in market research or a related field. Many have degrees in fields such as statistics, math, or computer science. Others have a background in business administration, one of the social sciences, or communications. Courses in statistics, research methods, and marketing are essential for these workers; courses in communications and social sciences — such as economics, psychology, and sociology — also are important.

Many market research analyst jobs require a master’s degree. Several schools offer graduate programs in marketing research, but many analysts complete degrees in other fields, such as statistics, marketing, or a Master of Business Administration. A master’s degree is often required for leadership positions or positions that perform more technical research. Median salary: $60,570

Cost estimators: Cost estimators collect and analyze data to estimate the time, money, resources, and labor required for product manufacturing, construction projects, or services. Some specialize in a particular industry or product type.

A growing number of employers prefer candidates that have a bachelor’s degree. A strong background in mathematics is essential.

Brian Underwood is the executive director of Sierra Lutheran High School. He can be reached at underwood@slhs.com.