We’re all talking about the “jobs of the future” and “winning the future” and transitioning to a “knowledge economy.” Since predictions are hard, especially about the future, it’s a good idea to look at some data.
And it looks like we have some of it: the BLS has a handy chart of the fastest-growing jobs in America (h/t Erica Grieder), and the vast majority are not the “knowledge economy” jobs we usually think of. In fact, this chart seems to prove things that we already know: the rising importance of the healthcare sector to the economy (especially with an ageing population) and the transition of the economy to services, where “services” is not a euphemism for “computers” but, like, actual services.
So the list has your odd “Biomedical Engineers” (fancy!) and, at the bottom, your “Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists” (sorry epidemiologists!), but the vast majority of jobs are jobs like “Home Health Aides” and “Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers.”
A key point here: The jobs of the future are only “low skilled” if you define “low skilled” as not requiring college. Being a good carpenter (56% growth, Jesus is still with us) or, for that matter, a good medical secretary (41% growth), takes smarts (actual smarts, not just book smarts), hard work, and dedication.
Relatedly, the jobs of the future will be high-paying. It’s simply not true that all high-paying jobs require a college degree. It’s very very possible to make a very good living as a tradesman, because good tradesmen are–and always will be, unlike Fortran programmers and data entry clerks–in high demand.
“Helpers–Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters” sounds like bottom-of-the-barrel work, but follow someone like Samuel-James Wilson, an award-winning bricklayer, on Twitter, or visit Guédelon Castle where contemporary tradesmen are building a 13th century castle with 13th century tools, to see that being a good bricklayer is as hard as being a good lawyer. Obviously I’ve been influenced by Shop Class as Soulcraft, which should be required reading for any discussion of the future of work and education.
And finally – and this is perhaps the most important thing – some jobs of the future only “require” college because we’re very dumb. Very few of those occupations require college in the sense that 90+% of people who pursue that occupation will benefit from having learned about it in college. But my guess would be that more than a few of these occupations “require” college in the sense that employers expect that applicants will have a BA. And this is our problem. A “Diagnostic Medical Sonographer” is a highly-skilled job that doesn’t require college training in the sense that you can learn everything you need to do the job in a manner of months. But many colleges offer programs to help you become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. And when you compare unemployment rates for college graduates and non-college graduates, you see why someone might want to go to college to become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer even if it means taking on huge, unnecessary debt. And once there are enough college graduates who can become Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, you can see why employers would rationally toss out of the pile any resumes that don’t have a college degree on them.
This is something that we urgently need to fix, because we’re wasting ginormous amounts of money, time, and resources. The first step is to recognise what the actual jobs of the future are.
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