What's On The Job Frontier? Experts Weigh In

Wind turbines at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Wind Farm near Boulder, Colo. i i

Wind turbines generate energy at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Wind Farm near Boulder, Colo. Experts agree there will be job opportunities in green, clean technology in the next few years. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Wind turbines at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Wind Farm near Boulder, Colo.

Wind turbines generate energy at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Wind Farm near Boulder, Colo. Experts agree there will be job opportunities in green, clean technology in the next few years.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The Future Of Jobs

Where do you think the future of jobs lie? Tell us in the comments section below.

Health Care, Space And Green Technology

If you're looking for employment, now may be the time to reinvent yourself. Here, what experts told us about where the future of jobs may lie:

 

Develop skills that can't be outsourced. More businesses are outsourcing simple work overseas, but the demand for jobs such as nursing, home care, genetic counselors, hospice care workers and physical therapists is likely to grow.

 

Do some homework before enrolling in graduate school. People tend to pile into industries just before they collapse — and would-be grad students should beware the cycle.

 

You might clean up with "clean technology." The Obama administration has allocated money in its massive, nearly trillion-dollar stimulus package to promote clean energy. Engineers, architects, builders and urban planners will be needed to build a new green, clean technology infrastructure.

 

Become your own boss. If you have a good idea and the energy, go out and raise capital. Venture capital companies are still investing in start-ups.

 

Space really may be the final frontier. Opportunities in the space industry are limitless.

Millions of Americans are scouring job sites, sending the dreaded networking e-mails, perfecting their resumes and thinking about how to best sell their skills. But what about developing a new set of skills, like starting a company, going back to school for clean technology, getting creative?

Just 20 years ago, there was no Facebook, Amazon or Google. Today, Google alone employs more than 20,000 people and "google" has earned verb status in the dictionary.

So where does the next jobs frontier lie? Here, experts weigh in on what they see as future growth industries — and how you can prepare yourself to take advantage of them.

The Author

Daniel Pink, who most recently wrote The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need, says people should focus on developing skills that can't be outsourced.

"The devil word is the word 'routine,' " Pink says. Any job where you "follow a series of steps and deliver the right answer — that kind of work is a goner." The examples he rattles off: programming, accounting, financial analysis and basic computer engineering. While the former three helped contribute to America's economic growth the past couple of decades with the rise of Wall Street, Pink says more and more people are outsourcing simple work overseas.

Experts — including statisticians at the Labor Department — aren't very good at predicting what the economy's structures will be in five or 10 years, Pink says. In the 1980s, they forecast data-entry clerks as one of the largest-growing jobs, but "they didn't envision that personal computers would get so personal." In the 1990s, the agency projected travel agents as a fast-growing career, but nobody saw Orbitz or Expedia coming on the scene.

"When you are talking about particular jobs — or, in some instances, particular industries — you're in very slippery territory," he says.

The one thing Pink banks on is health care: "Health care ain't going away." He cites the ever-growing need for jobs such as nursing, home care, genetic counselors, hospice care workers and physical therapists. He also says there are abundant opportunities in financial services, counterintuitive as that may seem, given the collapse of Wall Street. "Right now, the financial industry is one of the best for a young innovator to go into 'cause it's in total upheaval," he says. "A lot of the old products and mechanisms don't work — you're building a better mousetrap."

"I would advise an enterprising young person who's interested in finance to find a garage and few talented friends — and go create the financial services equivalent of Apple, Amazon.com or Google for a post-meltdown world," Pink says.

Ultimately, Pink thinks it's wise to follow the old adage and go into something you love — because then you'll be good at it. And there's a premium on empathy — for jobs in fields such as psychology and sales, he says, because that can't be automated or replicated.

The Educator

In down economies, many people flock to graduate school, and business school is often among the most popular. But Bill Sahlman, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, says people tend to pile into industries just before they collapse — and would-be grad students should beware the cycle.

In 1987, the hot sector was investment banking — before the stock market crashed that year. In 2000, it was venture capital — just as the tech bubble burst. In 2006 and 2007, hedge funds and private equity funds were attractive because they had capital.

"Industries ultimately are cyclical. Whenever anyone can get into an industry, it almost always is overcrowded and there is a period of adjustment," Sahlman says.

In the short term, financial services will undergo massive restructuring, he says, offering opportunities. Distressed debt investors and advisers will find work, and business will boom for restructuring companies that figure out ways to improve cost structures.

Another "thriving" frontier is clean technology, Sahlman says. Harvard is teaching new courses in clean energy alternatives — like a smarter energy grid, solar, wind, biofuels, batteries — and "a lot" more students are interested in it. One reason that most of the experts with whom NPR spoke cited clean tech as a future growth industry is the Obama administration's push to develop clean energy alternatives. The administration has allocated money in its massive, nearly trillion-dollar stimulus package to promote clean energy: The Senate version includes more than $109 billion in funding and tax breaks to promote renewable energy sources.

Like Pink, Sahlman thinks "there's an unlimited need" for workers in the health care field, especially as managers.

It's also perhaps the time to start a company, if you have a good idea and the energy to go out and raise capital. "When it's hard to raise money, it's a good time to start a company," Sahlman says. That's because the field of competition is narrower, so a good idea is less likely to get lost in the crowd. Also, costs like hiring and running experiments come down.

"In tighter times, it's easier to hire great people at reasonable prices and to run at an appropriate rather than breakneck speed," Sahlman says.

The Venture Capitalist

So what kind of company could you start, if you had a bit of capital?

Jeffrey J. Bussgang, a general partner with Boston-based Flybridge Capital Partners, says his company invests in the Internet, wireless, health care and green technology.

The venture capital firm, founded in 2001, got about 3,000 pitches last year and invested in nine companies. Overall, it has invested $320 million in 40 companies. Flybridge invests between $2 million and $10 million in start-ups it expects will thrive in eight to 10 years.

"There's more money than people think," Bussgang says. "People are much scrappier than they used to be. They're getting by with less, they're hiring less, they're looking to pay less. They're looking to pay their vendors less with the capital they have."

One company that Bussgang funded makes microchips that can be implanted in people's bodies to monitor such things as fat content and glucose levels. Bussgang says, with a laugh, "Technology is becoming so sophisticated that soon we're all going to have 10 microchips in our bodies."

The Futurist

James Canton, who founded the Institute for Global Future, a San Francisco-based think tank that forecasts future trends and innovations, thinks quite a bit further outside the box than even microchips. He envisions workforces for entirely new industries: from workers who routinely decipher human genomes and map DNA to people who will shuttle to Mars to colonize the planet in 20 years (yes, he's serious).

But, looking one to three years out, Canton says engineers, architects, builders and urban planners will need to build a new green, clean technology infrastructure so the U.S. can cut down on its energy consumption. Cantor says scientists and inventors will have to find new ways of storing biofuels. And he says there will be a premium on people who can make sense of a cap-and-trade system, something President Obama often talked about on the campaign trail. Under such a system, companies face limits on how much carbon they can emit, but they also can sell their unused carbon credits to bigger polluters.

Canton also says health care has been "waiting for transformation for 35 years." He predicts a new set of jobs based on health information technology and consumer genomics — that is, specialists who map an individual's DNA sequence and then analyze it to predict future health. With DNA tests at a relatively affordable $200, Canton believes more and more people will want to know the diseases they're predisposed to develop, so they can work to prevent them. Those facing dire prognoses may need to talk with genomics counselors.

Younger people "are more courageous, and they want to use technology to understand their health status," Canton says.

Opportunities in the space industry — including the private sector — are as limitless as space itself, Canton says, citing the International Space University in France. It "trains space executives and planners to be a part of the public and private industry," he says. He also says "there are actual plans at NASA to colonize Mars" and believes it could happen by 2030.

"I'm not talking about selling condos on the moon," Canton says. "I'm talking about an entirely new skunk-works industry funded by multibillionaires."

Billionaires such as Richard Branson, who started Virgin Galactic, are funneling money into space travel, and Canton says an industry is going to sprout around it, like space mining.

"If I was looking for an exciting job, and I was finishing my B.A., I would look at [being a] cosmologist — something involving engineering and space," Canton says. "It's going to be a very exciting area, because we will leave the Earth. Everything relates to that high frontier."

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