I have written extensively about the jobs of tomorrow and the critical role of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills in preparing applicants for these jobs. (See, for example, my recently completed free report, “IT Companies as Catalysts in Creating the 21st Century Workforce.“) As explained in a new CareerCast study, these skills also critical in preparing applicants for the jobs of today—or at least many of the “best jobs”.
What are these “best jobs” and what makes them “the best”? The study, which compiles U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau data, evaluates jobs in terms of five criteria:
- Working environment;
- Physical demands;
- Income and growth potential; and
- Hiring outlook.
While not necessarily the highest skilled (neurosurgeon, corporate M&A lawyer), highest paying (bond trader, hedge fund manager) or most glamorous (movie star, professional athlete), these jobs are available in reasonably high numbers and are available to people with relatively moderate (typically a four-year degree) degree of education.
Just what are these jobs? The top ten are, in descending order: actuary, software engineer, computer systems analyst, biologist, historian, mathematician, paralegal assistant, statistician, accountant and dental hygienist. All but two (historian and paralegal) require some form of specialized STEM education.
Perhaps none of these jobs are quite your cup of tea. Or, perhaps unlike CareerCast, you do not weigh each of the five criteria equally. You may, for example, be motivated primarily by income and advancement potential, or you may actually prefer a physically demanding job.
No worries. There are dozens of other jobs. But be forewarned: 37 of the CareerCast’s 50 “best jobs” (out of a total 200 ranked jobs) require some form of explicit math, science or technology background. Moreover, as I have discussed in previous blogs, a number of the 13 additional jobs (such as historian, sociologist, anthropologist and archeologist) increasingly require specialized IT and math skills, such as in compiling and analyzing huge quantities of information and data.
Of course, this doesn’t suggest that ALL jobs that are intellectually, emotionally and financially rewarding require STEM educations. You can, for example, become a philosopher (11), attorney (80), author (74), clergyman (96) or artist (104), although most such professions require extensive training or specialized skills. There are also somewhat lower skill jobs. You can be a damn good paralegal (7), medical records technician (20), purchasing agent (40), jeweler (61) or actor (163) with little or no math or science training and few, if any, computer skills. But if you want to find jobs with no specialized training requirements or long apprentices, you generally have to move much further down the CareerCast list into lower-skill, more physical and/or more repetitive jobs such as waitperson (125), bus driver (137), retail salesperson (142) or mail carrier (191). And if you really want to live on the edge (literally and figuratively), you can always become a lumberjack (199) or roustabout (200).
But regardless of which type of career you choose, the work environment of the 21st century will not be like that of the 20th century. Jobs will remain scarce for at least the next five years, more positions will become temporary or freelance, and a growing number of jobs will be devalued or disappear as a result of increasingly pervasive globalization of knowledge work and the automation of functions that used to require human discretion and labor.
Success in this new environment will require much more than strong, specialized domain skills (whether STEM-based or not). Traditional left-brain analytical skills will, in fact, become the ante required for success in tomorrow’s jobs. Knowledge workers who hope to capture and retain the best, highest-value and most secure jobs must also complement these capabilities with increasingly large doses of left-brained conceptual and empathic skills. And, with all due respect to technophobes, virtually all high-value knowledge jobs will also require at least basic quantitative, statistical and IT skills. IT, in fact, will increasingly have to become the second language for almost all 21st century knowledge workers.