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A lot of help wanted

National | Medical- and computer-related occupations likely will dominate job growth in this decade

Issue: "High stakes at the Court," Jan. 29, 2000

in San Diego - Ricardo Rios's 1999 career path was a little like riding a down-escalator halfway to the bottom, then leaping the handrail to catch the one going back up. Mr. Rios, a San Diego accountant since 1991, lost his job last March when the collision repair firm he worked for closed shop. Computer technology was (and is) shrinking the accounting field severely, but Mr. Rios didn't know that-he just knew he was out of a job. Despondent and on unemployment, he perked up when he saw an ad for nursing training. In his boyhood, he had dreamed of working in medicine, so he enrolled at an area medical college. Six months later Mr. Rios graduated as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and home health aide. He had known the health care field was growing, but it wasn't until after an area hospital snapped him up at his October graduation that he learned his new job was one of the hottest occupations in the nation. Mr. Rios isn't and won't be alone. Look at the latest business headlines concerning the merger of pharmaceutical giants Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beechum, as well as those earlier this month on the uniting of AOL and Time Warner. Health care and computers are where the action is in the 21st-century American economy. People who want to use their skills to serve God through service to others will increasingly find that many of their opportunities include tongue depressors or keyboards. In employment projections released last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted an increase of 20.5 million new jobs overall by 2008, with health assessment and treating occupations joining such professional occupations as computer engineers, teachers, and counselors as the fastest-growing fields and the ones adding the most jobs. Other broad occupational groups topping the list: technicians and related support occupations, service occupations, and executive, managerial, and administrative occupations. All told, the BLS projects job growth to slow slightly from last decade's torrid pace, but BLS statistics still describe "an economy marked by moderate growth, low unemployment and improving productivity" that will continue to spin off new jobs for workers at all educational levels. The fastest growth will occur in jobs requiring an associate's degree or higher. Computer-related positions top the list of such jobs (for example, the number of computer engineers is expected to more than double), accompanied by jobs in corrections, natural science, health care, and social services. Jobs requiring at least a two-year degree accounted for just 25 percent of all jobs in 1998; by 2008 they'll account for 40 percent of all job growth. "Technological advances are driving this market," says Mimi Collins, communications director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers. "Students coming out of college are more trainable and more technologically savvy" than their non-college job market competitors, she argues. "In a tight labor market, employers are snapping up educated candidates who show aptitude and training them for specific tasks, even though their degree may not be in a field related to a particular opening." Jobs requiring at least some college are growing the fastest, but the greatest numerical increase in new positions will occur in larger fields that require less formal training. Employment Policy Foundation economist Ed Potter sees this dual trend as progress toward a balanced labor market mix. "With the growth in jobs requiring college we're clearly moving in the right direction," Mr. Potter says. "But it's also good to have growth among jobs in society that provide an entry point for people who may not have skills, and can pick them up in the workplace. For some workers, those jobs can be an essential gateway to the labor market." And it will continue to be a service gateway for many of them, because the BLS predicts that the much-maligned trend away from manufacturing toward a service-based economy will persist. According to Allison Thomson, a senior economist with the BLS's Office of Employment Projections, jobs in the service-producing sector will account for three out of every four new jobs in the United States by 2008. While many economists have reflexively decried the long-running shift away from manufacturing as the beginning of the end of U.S. economic health, Mr. Potter doesn't agree. He points out that the service sector over the last decade added a huge number of high-paying jobs. "And one benefit of a service-based economy is that it's continual. You don't have the cyclical effect associated with inventory and goods-production because most services are not deferrable activities." In any case, many Americans will continue to produce goods for a living: "The issue is no longer about losing manufacturing jobs in mass numbers," Mr. Potter says. He notes that the BLS projects a decline in the share of manufacturing jobs among all jobs of just 2 percent, a statistic offset by a technology-driven increase in manufacturing output. The fastest growing industry in the entire economy (meaning not just individual occupations, but industries as a whole) is, of course, the computer industry. Fueled by advances in technology and the mushrooming influence of the Internet, the industry's employment is projected to grow from 1.6 million jobs in 1998 to 3.5 million in 2008. Even in manufacturing where overall job growth will decelerate, more than 40 percent of new workers who do enter jobs supporting goods-production will be computer systems analysts, engineers, and scientists. Self-employment is also expected to pick up players. Driven by increased outsourcing among major corporations for services ranging from writing to maintenance to auditing to research, and bolstered by telecommunications technology, the number of self-employed workers is expected to increase in several occupational fields. For example, self-employed executive, administrative, and managerial workers will increase by 361,000. Almost 300,000 additional professional specialty workers and 222,000 more service workers will call themselves "boss" by 2008. Fourteen of the fast-growing occupations in the country are related to health care. BLS economist Douglas Braddock attributes the explosive growth to an aging population, a wealthier population that can afford better care, and advances in medical technology that increase demand. However, corollary developments-like Medicare caps and managed-care systems-will rein in that growth: in the number of self-employed general practice physicians, for example. At the same time, though, cost-cutting trends in health care will produce huge gains in alternative delivery occupations like nursing aides and home health aides. That's the trend Ricardo Rios is riding to career success. Working the swing shift at Alvarado Hospital in east San Diego, he's combining an income fit to support a family with the dream of his youth: working in medicine. "I may never be a doctor," says Mr. Rios, "but at least I'm doing something I love."

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