About half of all new college level jobs will be concentrated in three areas: education, healthcare and computers. IT jobs provide particular opportunities—and challenges.
In my June 27 blog, Payoffs of a College Education, I discussed that the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2010 Occupational Outlook Handbook portrays particularly strong growth in jobs for college graduates. These jobs will grow at a faster rate (15% versus 10%) than those that typically require less education and yield higher weekly and lifetime earnings and greater job security. In fact, every step up the educational ladder, from high school diploma, through some college, bachelor degree and professional degree (with a small exception for PhDs), tends to improve virtually every aspect of a person’s career path.
But the level of educational obtainment is a pretty high-level view of the job market. Although it does emphasize the value of graduating from college, it does not, in and of itself, provide much guidance as to which occupations offer the best employment opportunities, the highest earnings potential and the best opportunities for advancement.
Tomorrow’s Largest Growth Occupations
In 2006 (the study’s benchmark year), about half of all jobs (see Chart 3 of the handbook) in college-level occupations were concentrated in three broad categories—education (21%), healthcare (14%) and computers (13%). Adding two others, management (12%) and business and financial operations (11%) covers more than 70% of all college-level jobs.
A nice start, but still too macro a view to provide meaningful help in career planning. Medical jobs, for example, run the gamut from physician assistants to surgeons. Management jobs run from education administrators to CEOs. Jobs within each category have very different educational requirements (from bachelor or below through post-graduate) and are likely to produce vastly differing numbers of total job openings through 2018 (from 66,000 physician assistants to 1 million registered nurses) and growth rates (2% for CEOs to 50% or more for some IT jobs).
The tables supporting the Bureau’s conclusions provide details for multiple occupations in each of these categories. As one would expect, the greatest number of projected openings are concentrated in the three largest college-level job categories: education, healthcare and computers. The first two categories share a few similarities.
Both, for example, are:
- Being driven largely by population growth and demographic trends;
- Characterized by especially strong growth in one very big class of occupations;
- Consist of a large number of moderate and relatively low-paying jobs, and more modest numbers of higher-paying (especially in healthcare) jobs that typically require a minimum of four years of graduate school.
Health care growth, for example, is driven overwhelmingly by the growth in need for RNs, which is projected to grow at a 24% rate and account for almost two-thirds of all listed healthcare openings. Although there will be big needs for teachers at all levels, the demand for K-2 teachers is growing at only a 10.8% rate, while that for post-secondary teachers (and some small specialty teachers) is tracking at 23%.
IT-related job trends are very different. First, although the handbook profiles only five distinct occupations (out of ten that BLS specifically tracks), all four of the specialized, high-skill occupations (network systems and data communications analysts, computer software engineers, systems analysts, and network and systems administrators) are slated for hyper-growth through 2018, at rates ranging from 28% to 53%.
These jobs, most of which require “only” bachelor’s degrees, also provide some of the highest salaries—more than twice the median for all occupations. Many, even during the depths of the recession, are already characterized by strong levels of college hiring, rising salaries and shortages of qualified applicants at all levels of experience.
Moreover, the need for IT skills is being driven not by demographics, but by the rapid, increasingly critical need to incorporate IT into virtually every business, every process and every “machine” (from PDAs and televisions through office buildings and jumbo jets). And this is just the start. Business decisions increasingly require real-time analytics and seamless, real-time collaboration tools. The Internet, meanwhile, is creating new businesses and new job requirements every minute of every day.
This being said, not all IT jobs are created equal. As I mentioned, four of the five listed categories are growing at hyper-rates. The number of openings for the fifth—computer programmers—is actually declining. This is not at all surprising. The demand for the lowest skill IT occupation, data entry clerks, has been plummeting for years. BLS now anticipates similar (albeit slower) declines in the number of openings for computer programmers. These positions, as I’ve discussed in a number of previous blogs, will be increasingly replaced—and compensation reduced—by a combination of:
- Technology, including more automated development and test processes, software reuse and tools that can be used by non-IT professionals; and by the
- Rapid growth in the availability and use of lower-priced, offshore IT professionals.
Moreover, while these forces are initially felt in relatively low-skill IT professions, they are already beginning to be felt in ever more demanding occupations. Increasingly sophisticated, policy-based IT management software, remote diagnostic tools and a growing trend toward the delivery of IT as an outsourced service will slash the number of people required to maintain an application, manage a given number of servers or support a given number of users. Moreover, as I have discussed in previous blogs, the number of offshore IT professionals is exploding, their education and training is getting much better and they are moving rapidly up the IT value chain, providing increasingly sophisticated services—including services that integrate IT skills into other college-level occupations.
So, while highly demanding technical specialties may offer promising opportunities for the next decade, IT professionals, like sharks, must continually move forward—or they will die. They must continually evolve their skills to address the most promising career opportunities. Most importantly, they must learn to apply these skills in ways that deliver not just “IT value”, but true “business value” to their company’s line-of-business constituents and especially their customers.
But as the number of opportunities for dedicated IT professionals is large and rapidly growing, this does not even scratch the surface of the need for IT skills in tomorrow’s job market. Virtually every college-level job in America is becoming, to one extent or another, an IT job.
This is not to say they must develop, manage and maintain their company’s IT infrastructure or applications. They must, however, be able to integrate a broad range of increasingly sophisticated IT tools into every aspect of their work. And I don’t mean that people must use word processing and email. Those are yesterday’s skills. Today’s professionals must also be fluent in Internet search, in computer-based collaboration and in social networking. Tomorrow’s professionals must seamlessly incorporate sophisticated information access and analytics tools into their day-to-day tasks and learn dozens of new tools and techniques that most of us can barely identify.
Over the next decade, virtually every professional will have to be an IT professional, as well as a professional in his or her own specific field.