Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Do Robots Dream of Electronic Paychecks?

This week, I’m going to continue my year-end tradition of looking back at the tweets I’ve issued on Twitter in order to follow up on some and comment on the significance of others. (If you’re not already following me, my handle is @LaurenceShatkin.) But this week, I’m going to focus on a single trend that I’ve tweeted about numerous times: the growing use of robots.

In fact, if it were up to me to choose Time’s Person of the Year, I’d choose the robot. For example, this year I learned about a new trend in warehouses: using robots to pull merchandise off the shelves and bring it to the loading dock. Human forklift operators need not apply for these jobs. Robots are also threatening some jobs in the green career field of solar panel installation. Part of the reason this trend is accelerating is that technology is creating a generation of robots that are more deft and therefore more capable of doing work that until now has been done by hand. (“Fine motor control” takes on a different meaning when it refers to actual motors.) For example, a Philips Electronics factory in Holland is using robots to do the same delicate work—assembling electric shavers—that humans are doing in a Philips factory located in the Chinese city of Zhuhai. One of the biggest manufacturers in China, Foxconn (which assembles iPhones, among many other products), has announced plans to add up to one million industrial robots to its assembly lines inside of three years.

But despite these improvements, robots still can’t think as well as human workers do, and it seems unlikely that they will soon be able to make complex decisions or recognize nonroutine visual patterns as well as the human brain can. Job erosion in the United States has been slowed partly by this limitation on robots, combined with a limitation on foreign workers: much work in America needs to be done by on-site workers. But perhaps a perfect storm is coming that will overcome both of these obstacles: what one writer calls “the Avatar economy.”

If you’ve seen that movie, you saw how one of the characters remotely controlled a physical body, his avatar, to accomplish work that his disabled body could not do. In a way, we already have workers doing this when they control aerial drones for surveillance and for making kill shots in foreign countries. Why can’t that be done in reverse—by foreign workers—for civilian work tasks here? For example, some delicate surgery is now performed by robotic hands under the control of a physician who watches the progress of the operation through stereoscopic video cameras. I’ve seen this being done from across a room. Couldn’t this be done from across an ocean? In surgery, the major remaining barrier may be the few seconds of delay in response time, which could be critical in some situations. But for less life-and-death work tasks, it may become less expensive to hire a foreign worker to control an on-site robot.

It’s important to understand that not all robots are engaged in physical manipulation of objects. Robots are also making inroads into some American jobs that are concerned mainly with manipulating data. For example, “e-discovery” software is replacing lawyers and legal assistants by rapidly reading through reams of documents to find material that is relevant to a lawsuit or other trial. One California firm analyzed 1.5 million documents for the bargain-basement cost of less than $100,000. The software is sophisticated enough to go beyond keyword recognition and actually identify key concepts. You saw something similar happening if you watched the computer that bested the human opponent on “Jeopardy!” Less clever computers are working with numbers to make decisions that used to require human loan officers and tax accountants.

Machine translation has reached the point where you can easily ask Facebook to translate a posting made in a foreign language. One indication of where this is going was a demonstration this year by Microsoft researchers in which a computer translated someone’s spoken English into Mandarin with only a very short delay and, most remarkable of all, spoke the translation in a voice that sounded like that of the original speaker.

Fears about the Mayan apocalypse now seem rather quaint, and I’m not going to predict an imminent robotic apocalypse for American workers. But if you’re planning for a career with any longevity, you need to think about developing skills that robots will find difficult to master.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Researching an Occupation Before an Interview

In September, I blogged about the importance of researching the employer before you walk into an interview. This week’s blog is about researching the occupation for which you’ll be interviewed.

If you work with job-seekers who are still in school or recent graduates, you may have to impress on them the importance of researching the occupation that is their career goal. Here are some reasons to mention:

Question the interviewer might ask: “The most important work tasks are x, y, and z. Do you think you can do these tasks? Do you have a problem with any of these tasks?”
What you need to research about the employer: The most important work tasks
Advantage you gain: You can be ready with examples of your work or schooling that show you can do the work tasks. You’ll know whether the work tasks at this particular job are easier or harder than what’s typical.

Question the interviewer might ask: “On this job, the tools we use are x and y. Tell me about your experience using these.”
What you need to research about the employer: Typical tools and technologies
Advantage you gain: You can be ready with examples that show you are skilled with using these tools and technologies.

Question the interviewer might ask: “I’ve just described the work conditions here. Do you think you would be comfortable with them?”
What you need to research about the employer: Typical work conditions (indoor/outdoor, pressure, hours, travel, etc.)
Advantage you gain: You can decide whether the conditions at this particular job are better or worse than average.

Question the interviewer might ask: “Why do you want to work here? How do you see your future in this job?”
What you need to research about the employer: Future job trends
Advantage you gain: You understand what the future job opportunities will be with this type of employer. You can explain how you’ll serve future needs.

(What about how whether the employer pays a salary that’s appropriate for the occupation? You’ll need to know that eventually, when the interviewer offers you the job, but not for the initial interview.)

As you conduct research, for each question you investigate about the occupation, you’ll need to ask a corresponding question of yourself: specifically, “Am I ready for and comfortable with this aspect of the occupation?” Your answers to this question will help you be ready to decide whether or not the way the occupation is done at this employer suits you.

An exercise for conducting the research:
Start by looking at the work tasks. O*NET Online is an excellent resource for these inquiries. Search for the occupation and print out the Summary Report.

Make a Work Tasks Table. Divide a sheet of paper into three columns. In the first column, write each bulleted item on the Task list. In the middle column, make a mark to indicate whether you are ready for that task and comfortable with it. Use the right column for comments about the middle column:
  • If you’re not comfortable with a task, explain how you think you might work around it.
  • If you’re ready for a task, note how you learned it (training, work experience).
  • If you’re not ready for a task, explain how you intend to learn it (on-the-job training, a future class, or maybe you consider it unimportant for the job opening you have in mind).
How to use the Work Tasks Table before a job interview:
Find out as much as you can about the work tasks for the particular job opening you will be interviewed for:
  • If the job has been advertised, the advertisement probably mentions some tasks.
  • If the job has not been advertised, you may be able to find out something about the tasks by word of mouth.
  • In either case, you may be able to obtain a job description published by the employer. It will identify some tasks.
Compare the tasks of the particular job opening to the tasks listed in the table. On a paper pad, jot down some notes for the interview:
  • Look at the tasks that you’re ready for and comfortable with.
    • If the particular job involves some of these tasks, be prepared to mention how you mastered these tasks (class, work experience).
    • If the particular job does not involve some of these tasks, be prepared to ask why not.
    • Look at the tasks that you’re not ready for.
      • If the particular job involves some of these tasks, be prepared to ask whether you can get help learning how to do them.
      • If the particular job does not involve some of these tasks, you may want to ask for confirmation that it doesn’t, although you should express your willingness to learn them eventually.
      • Look at the tasks that you’re not comfortable with.
        • If the particular job does not seem to involve some of these tasks, you may want to ask for confirmation that it doesn’t.
        • If you learn at the interview that the job does involve some of these tasks, be prepared to explain how you’ll deal with them.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Hottest Specializations in Health Informatics

In my book The Sequel: How to Change Your Career Without Starting Over, I wrote about how it is often possible to move from one occupation to another that uses knowledge of the same field, but in a different way. For example, a teacher might move into educational sales. An entertainer might move into booking gigs for entertainers. A chemist might move into technical writing about chemistry-related topics. One kind of sequel career that I did not mention was managing information about the field with which you are familiar.

Every occupation generates information, and often it is possible to make a living by organizing that information and serving as a conduit for it. A stellar example is Michael Bloomberg, who earned his billions by realizing that the best business to be in was information about business. As his Wikipedia entry notes, “His business plan was based on the realization that Wall Street (and the financial community generally) was willing to pay for high quality business information delivered as quickly as possible and in as many usable forms as technically possible (such as graphs of highly specific trends).”

Health care is our biggest and fastest-growing industry, and it generates terabytes of information daily. As a result, health informatics has become a fast-growing field. The data wizards at Burning Glass, whom I mentioned in last week’s blog (and who are another example of spinning data into gold), have measured a 36 percent increase in the number of job postings for health informatics careers in the period from 2007–2011. This dwarfs the 9 percent increase in health-care job listings, not to mention the 6 percent growth of all job listings. (See the PDF of their report, “A Growing Jobs Sector: Health Informatics.”)

The field is still small compared to the nursing occupations, but Burning Glass found that job postings for health informatics now represent the eighth-largest share of health-care occupation postings. The fastest-growing specializations in this field are the occupations that require high levels of skill. For example, the number of job postings for medical coders—who usually need the Certified Coding Specialist credential—increased by 31 percent over the time period Burning Glass studied. Demand for these workers is being pushed by the switch to electronic medical records and the increased complexity of turning doctor visits into bills submitted to insurers, including Medicare.

But health informatics is about much more than billing. The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, has created incentives for hospitals and physicians to avoid the expense of follow-up treatments and readmissions. This, is turn, encourages health-care providers to coordinate treatment and monitor its quality. Other uses of clinical data will be for rating health-care providers and for determining which interventions are most effective. Taken together, these uses of data create a need for workers—clinical documentation and improvement analysts—who have experience with clinical care and who understand the data that clinical care generates. Burning Glass found a 124 percent increase in job posting for this specialization 2007–2011. This is career seems a natural doorway through which nurses can move from providing health care to manipulating data about health care. Their key to this door might be to get certified as a Registered Health Information Technician. In fact, 37 percent of RHITs surveyed by the American Health Information Management Association received their certification with less than 1 month of coding experience, 74 percent of them held an associate degree, 16 percent held a bachelor’s degree, and only 4 percent had no more education than a certificate in coding (PDF).

Burning Glass also found rapid growth in the job postings for supervisory positions in this field: 46 percent growth for medical records and coding department supervisors/managers, 53 percent for health information managers.

Contrast these high-skill specializations with medical records clerks, which had a decline of 46 percent in the job postings 2007–2011. Within this field, medical records clerks would be considered low-skilled, but consider that they are in the middle range of skills when viewed within the full range of health-care occupations. (Home health care aides, for example, would be found near the bottom.)

What these examples show about the health-care field is that it resembles so many others: The workforce is being hollowed out as high-skill and low-skill jobs grow, while middle-skill jobs shrink or, at best, stagnate. The low-skill jobs barely pay a living wage, if that. High skills now are necessarily to gain even a toehold in the middle class.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

When Entry Requirements Are Raised, Is Pay?

One career trend that seems to be here to stay is the up-credentialing of occupations. By this I mean that occupational entry requirements keep going up, whether they are set by licensure requirements or by employers’ expectations. Compared to past job applicants, new candidates need more schooling, more training, perhaps having passed a new exam. One might expect that the boost in occupational credentials may give a boost to the occupation’s prestige, but does it result in increased earnings? I recently found a small data set to help answer this question.

First, let’s step back and look at the factors that contribute to the up-credentialing trend. In some occupations, workers may be raising credential requirements (for example, by forming an association that develops a certification exam) as a way of erecting barriers to the entry of new workers, with the goal of restraining competition. This is sometimes called “professionalizing,” and workers justify it on the grounds that they are safeguarding the public by ensuring that only highly skilled people are allowed to practice the occupation.

In other occupations, the set of skills required for mastery or even competency in the work may have ramped up, especially because of scientific and technological advances, and thus a longer period of study—in other words, a more advanced degree—is necessary. For example, when I prepared the third edition of the College Majors Handbook, I found that pharmacy could no longer be described as a four-year degree, as it had been in the previous edition. Audiology became a doctoral-level program a few years ago, and physical therapy is now following suit.

In still other occupations, employers may be trying to simplify hiring decisions by eliminating low-credentialed applicants. Perhaps certain academic or training programs have diminished in rigor and thus have lost their meaning as a signifier of skill mastery. Or perhaps a recession has made the ratio of resumes to job openings so great that recruiters feel it necessary to raise credential requirements to cope with the flood of applicants.

What might be the effect of up-credentialing on pay?

It seems reasonable to suppose that if up-credentialing happens because of increased skill requirements, workers should enjoy a commensurate increase in pay. This is not just a matter of fairness; in a field where the professionals are highly skilled, they often can enlist the help of less-skilled paraprofessionals and thus boost their productivity. For example, think of how physical therapists use assistants and aides to do much of the work of preparing patients and equipment so that a therapist can serve many more patients. Highly-skilled workers may also be more adept at using technology or outsourcing to be more productive and thus earn more.

It also seems likely that workers should reap higher salaries when they “professionalize” an occupation by creating credentialing barriers to competition from new entrants. I’ve blogged about one study that found that licensure provides a pay boost roughly equivalent to that of union membership: about 15 percent. Probably certification has a similar effect.

When employers require higher credentials simply to cut down the number of application letters that must be read and interviews that must be conducted, we should not expect them to increase higher-credentialed workers’ pay.

I decided to investigate the effect of raised employers’ demands by analyzing the results of a study by the labor-market researchers at Burning Glass. These researchers analyzed job ads from more than 20,000 online sources, including both job boards and employer sites. Catherine Rampell, a blogger on The New York Times Economix page, asked Burning Glass to compile a list of the occupations that have shown the most up-credentialing in the past five years—specifically, those that have seen the greatest percentage increase in percentage of advertisements specifying the bachelor’s degree compared to those not specifying this degree.

The list of 40 most-up-credentialed occupations ranges from Dental Laboratory Technicians, which experienced a 175% increase in the percentage of ads requiring the bachelor’s (from 12% to 33%), down to Sound Engineering Technicians, which experienced an 8% increase (from 60% to 65%). From this list, I was able to identify 33 occupations for which the Department of Labor publishes earnings figures. The figures for up-credentialing apply to the period from 2007 to November 2011, and for comparison I looked at the earnings figures from May 2007 and May 2011.

It turns out that, on average, a 1 percent increase in bachelor’s-requiring advertisements results in a $483 increase in average earnings. (This is a weighted average, in which the differences in the number of jobs advertised have been figured into the calculations to give greater weight to more-widely-advertised occupations.) Now, if $483 seems a small figure, consider that a 1 percent increase is also a very small amount of up-credentialing. Also consider that this earnings difference is averaged out across everyone in the occupation, not just the new, up-credentialed recruits.

On closer inspection, however, this apparent earnings effect proves illusory. I calculated the correlation between the percentage increase in bachelor’s-requiring advertisements and the percentage increase in earnings over the same period and got –0.15. This figure is too small to suggest the existence of a relationship. That negative finding, in turn, suggests that up-credentialing over the past five years was not caused primarily by the up-skilling of the occupations.

On the other hand, if recruiters were using up-credentialing mainly as a quick way of tossing out most of the resumes that crossed their desks, one would expect a decrease, or at best a below-average increase, in earnings within up-credentialed occupations. That is, if up-credentialing is the recruiters’ response to an oversupply of job applicants, then employers shouldn’t need to increase incentives for applicants to these occupations.
In fact, the (weighted) average pay increase for the most-up-credentialed occupations, about $6,000,  is almost exactly the same as the average increase in pay of all associate-degree-level occupations over the same time period, also about $6,000.

So I conclude that up-credentialing probably occurred for a mixture of reasons: actual up-skilling of some occupations mixed with oversupply of applicants for other occupations. However, I should point out that the data set I’ve been working with is quite small. Burning Glass provided figures for only the 40 occupations with the largest increases in up-credentialing. I could calculate more confident correlations if I had access to credentialing shifts, both upward and downward, for the full range of occupations.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

You, Too, Can Become a Superstar

I am not a fan of “American Idol” or “Dancing With the Stars,” but these shows are examples of one form of upward mobility that our economy still permits: Thanks to the reach of the mass media, talented people can become superstars. Over time, people in an expanding range of occupations—not just singers and dancers—will achieve superstardom.

This phenomenon was described as long ago as 1981, when the economist Sherwin Rosen published “The Economics of Superstars” in The  American Economic Review (PDF). As examples of fields ruled by superstars, Rosen cited comedy, classical music, and elementary economics textbooks. In all three cases, a large market existed for the service or good, but each market was (and still is) dominated by a small number of very-highly-paid providers.

Rosen noted, “Motion pictures, radio, television, phono reproduction equipment, and other changes in communication have decreased the real price of entertainment services, but  have also increased the scope of each performer’s audience.” Nor is there any reason this phenomenon must be limited to performers. “Undoubtedly, secular changes in communications and transportation have expanded the potential market for all kinds of professional and information services, and allowed many of the top practitioners to operate at a national or even international scale.”

It used to be that a chef could serve only a few dozen people per night and therefore could aspire to only a middle-class lifestyle at best. Ever since Julia Child, however, several chefs with the ability to communicate effectively through the mass media have grown rich from television appearances, cookbook sales, and ownership of restaurant chains. Some highly telegenic clergy have also achieved great wealth and touched many lives by using their media savvy to reach beyond church walls.

One newly emerging group of superstars is teachers. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. This is an occupation in which the work is essentially a performance. We all can remember teachers with outstanding performance styles, the teachers who kept us attentive and who succeeded in making the lessons memorable. Now the mass media are allowing teachers to take their skills to much bigger audiences than could fit into any classroom. In Germany, a self-taught Photoshop expert with a flamboyant teaching style has built an empire of DVDs, live online webinars, and downloadable courses for those who want to learn how to manipulate bitmapped images. This superstar instructor, who goes under the pseudonym Calvin Hollywood, says he earns as much as $16,000 per month.

Another superstar teacher is Salman Khan, a former hedge fund analyst who launched a teaching career by posting YouTube videos (such as this one) that explain how to do elementary math problems. Wealthy philanthropists noticed these videos and helped Khan establish the Khan Academy, an expanding collection of free online videos about math, several sciences, information technology, economics, and several humanities subjects.

One kind of teacher—fitness instructor—has a long history of media superstars, such as Jack LaLanne, Richard Simmons,  and Jane Fonda (not to mention the granddaddy of them all, Charles Atlas).

Television news and talk shows are routes to stardom for a few professions. For example, every TV news operation spotlights a physician, such as Dr. Sanjay Gupta, to explain medical developments and issues. Among lawyers, think of Nancy Grace. Talk shows have elevated the visibility of counselors of various sorts, turning them into self-help gurus who publish best-selling books.

But these media-leveraging workers, like the exercise workout leaders, are functioning essentially as teachers. The TV doctors, lawyers, and psychobabblers are not following the model of TV-chefs-turned-restaurateurs by opening HMOs, chains of legal practices, or storefront therapy centers—at least, not yet.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Second Look at My Predictions

Now that the presidential votes have (almost) all been tallied, I’m sure that a lot of pundits are hoping you will not look at their pre-election predictions. (If you’re curious, you can see several of these on Ezra Klein’s blog. I’ve made some predictions of my own in print—not about the election, but about career prospects. I’m going to use this period of transition to a second Obama administration to look back at my prognostications in the book called Great Jobs in the President’s Stimulus Plan (2009). It turns out that my recommendations were, on balance, poor advice for the short term but good advice for the long term. And I’m okay with that. Occupational choice (as opposed to job choice) should be a long-term decision.

First, let me give you a bit of context about why and how this book was written. In the weeks following the 2008 election, as the inauguration drew near, interest in and excitement about the president-elect was building, and many businesses were cashing in by offering products such as Obama commemorative crockery. At the same time, the Obama transition team was developing the outlines of an economic stimulus plan to try to lift the nation out of the terrible recession. My editor at the time, Susan Pines, suggested that there was a market for a book that would focus on occupations that were likely to get a boost from the stimulus plan. On January 9, 2009, she gave me 14 days to develop a manuscript. I worked day and night like a madman and sent in the manuscript on January 20, a few hours before the new president was sworn in. The editing and page-layout staff at JIST Publishing then turned around this manuscript in record time and shipped the printed book February 4.

Understand that at the time I wrote the book, I had only an incomplete picture of what would be in the stimulus plan that eventually became law as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In the terms of the old metaphor, the horse that I found in the plans of the Obama transition team ended up looking more like a camel once it had achieved passage by Congress. Some provisions were modified to gain the support of senators and representatives with diverse ideological and regional interests. Much of the funding for the original plan was redirected into tax cuts. In the introduction to the book, I warned about the limitations of my predictions.

But I also noted that the stimulus plan was designed to do more than just reopen the jobs that had been lost.  One important goal was to create jobs in sectors of the economy that would anticipate the directions where the American economy needed to go to remain competitive in a global job market. Therefore, the promise of these “great jobs” was not just a matter of short-term employment but also the potential to be good long-term choices. And when measured for the long term, based on the most recent job-market projections, my recommendations still hold the promise of success.

Let’s look at the record in detail, measuring my predictions against actual changes in the workforce between May 2009 and May 2011. (The BLS issues estimates of workforce size for May of each year. May 2009 was the latest May before the stimulus could start to influence the economy; May 2011 is the latest May for which figures are available.)

In Great Jobs in the President’s Stimulus Plan, I selected eight industries that the ARRA was designed to promote: Construction; Education; Energy; Health Care; Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services; Manufacturing; Scientific Research and Development Services; and Wholesale Trade. I identified 300 occupations that are important in these industries and that had reasonably good outlook projections. This set of 300 included some occupations (such as Technical Writers, Sales Engineers, and Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators) that are not closely linked to any of the eight industries but are important across industries. These 300 occupations, taken from the O*NET-SOC taxonomy, represent 267 unique SOC occupations for which it is possible to obtain workforce statistics.

Now let’s look at the scorecard. The baseline for comparison is –1.8 percent. The workforce of all occupations shrank by 1.8 percent between May 2009 and May 2011. My set of 267 SOC occupations, the “great jobs,” shrank by 2.3 percent—in other words, did worse than the workforce as a whole. The construction jobs in the book shrank by 4.0 percent. The education jobs shrank by 0.6 percent; the energy jobs by 0.7 percent; the management, scientific, and technical consulting services jobs by 4.0 percent; the manufacturing jobs by 2.2 percent; the scientific research and development services jobs by 0.1 percent; the wholesale trade jobs by 3.1 percent; and the cross-industry jobs by 1.0 percent. The one bright spot was the health care occupations, which grew by 2.0 percent.

But recall what I said earlier about how the stimulus plan was designed to boost the sectors of the economy with the best prospects for long-term growth, and about how occupational choice should be based on long-term prospects. For the long term, the baseline is 14.3 percent. That’s how much the workforce as a whole is projected to grow between 2010 and 2020, the latest forecast available from the BLS. Against this baseline, the occupations I chose for the book score much better. The 267 unique occupations in the book have average projected growth of 15.7 percent over this long term.

Not all the industries into which I grouped the occupations fare better than the average for all occupations. For example, the manufacturing occupations I chose are projected to grow by an average of only 9.0 percent. However, what makes jobs “great” is not just the average growth of the industry. One of the slow-growing occupations is Secretaries, Except Legal, Medical, and Executive, a very large occupation (more than 2 million workers) with projected growth of only 5.8 percent. The large size of this occupation, while it drags down the average growth rate for this industry, also means that it will create a very large number of job openings because of turnover. And many of the slow-growing occupations, such as Industrial Engineers (projected at 6.4 percent) and Mechanical Engineers (8.8 percent), offer high salaries and many job opportunities. In fact, the manufacturing industry is now having great difficulty recruiting as many engineers as it needs.

The lesson to take away is that no one factor makes an occupation “great”—not any one economic factor, such as job growth, nor any other single factor, such as indoor versus outdoor work. It is likely to take many years before a career choice turns out to be a good one, and the same occupation can be a good goal for you but a bad one for someone else. Get a broad range of facts and impressions about a career—ideally, some firsthand experience observing it—before making a choice. And learn about the long-term trends for the occupation—not just the economic trends, but also the trends in work conditions.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Divisive Election Reflects a Divided Economy

Last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine carried a story about how the Amtrak ride from New York City to Washington offers a microcosm of the new American economy: at either end of the trip, prosperous cities fueled by government and finance, and in between, struggling cities plagued by high unemployment. This portrait represents the challenge that confronts the second term of the Obama Administration.

The article correctly points out that the nostalgia for good-paying manufacturing jobs, expressed so often in campaign speeches during the previous months, overlooks the reality that “the dollar value of goods made in America is at an all-time high of $1.9 trillion, just about even with China. The catch is that the number of American workers needed to create all that value has dropped steadily. In the mid-1940s, more than half of the New Jersey work force was in factories; today around 7 percent [are].” Modern manufacturing facilities employ “a handful of highly trained workers guiding machines that return huge value to shareholders while all the time finding ways to produce more goods with fewer workers.”

The writer, Adam Davidson, notes that the train ride also offers views of shiny office buildings housing “law firms and engineering companies and I.T. firms.” He is mistaken when he identifies the workers in these buildings as having “nothing to do with manufacturing.” That is true for many of these office workers, certainly, but the nation’s high-dollar-value manufacturing industry depends on engineers and I.T. workers who apply new technologies, as well as lawyers who work out contracts and fight patent infringements, to keep their companies competitive.

It’s highly significant that General Motors has done a U-turn on its previous trend of outsourcing information technology jobs, according to an article in MIT’s Technology Review. When GM’s current chief information officer came on board in February, 90 percent of the company’s I.T. work was being done outside of GM. Now GM plans to open four software innovation centers around the United States and may hire as many as 10,000 workers to staff them. This shift recognizes the fact that as manufacturing—from the design process to the assembly floor—has become thoroughly computerized and automated, and as the automobiles themselves have integrated many computerized components, it is expertise in I.T. that gives American carmakers the competitive advantage over foreign firms.

Where Davidson is very much on point is his observation that these white-collar service jobs are not as easily obtained as the manufacturing jobs of the old economy: “For people with advanced training, the service sector means an above-average wage, a below-average risk of unemployment and days sitting at a desk. For those with only a high-school [diploma] or no degree at all, far fewer jobs are available, and the ones that are pay poorly and disappear quickly.”

During the presidential campaign that just ended, you probably heard a lot about policy differences between the two major parties. Many of these policies had implications for the new economy outlined in this article: for education that will equip workers with advanced skills, for innovations in technology that will keep us competitive, for health care that will keep us productive at costs that are not crippling, and for infrastructure that will allow industries to function efficiently. We voters have now chosen government leadership that is highly divided on which policies will achieve these ends. Let’s hope that our leaders can move past the gridlock of the past several years and find ways to keep our industries strong without leaving behind a large segment of the population.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Careers for a Hot Planet

This blog entry is not as data-driven as some others, because I did not have access to my usual databases when I wrote it. I was in another state, using a borrowed computer, because super-storm Sandy had knocked out the power at my home. (I live in New Jersey.) The storm also made me think about global warming and its implications for career choice.

There is no way to prove that Sandy--or any specific weather event--has been the result of global climate change. However, there has been a recent uptick in destructive weather events. And the build-up of greenhouse gases is also expected to cause crop failures, rising sea levels, and acidification of the oceans. This will affect our lives in many ways, including changes in demand for certain workers.

One career that will see increased demand is lineworkers. I am especially aware of this career because one of these workers recently married into my family. Last week, once the weather forecasters became aware of Sandy's likely path and destructive power, lineworkers from states as far-flung as Indiana and Georgia were dispatched to New Jersey and other hard-hit locations. Future storms will bring down power lines and telecommunications lines, and these workers will be summoned to patch up the grid again and again. In addition, they will be needed to run power lines to new locations as solar-power farms and other new electricity sources are set up, and to string fiber-optic and conventional cable to neighborhoods that presently are not connected. Electrical power-line installers and repairers are projected to grow by 13 percent between 2010 and 2020. Growth of 14 percent is projected for telecommunications line installers and repairers. These are good careers for those who like working outdoors and who have no fear of heights.

Many scientific and technological jobs will be created to solve the problems that global climate change brings on. For example, one result of climate change will be disruption of the synchrony between agricultural pests and the predators that historically have kept the pests in check. Agricultural scientists and technicians will be needed to develop and implement new ways to control pests. Conservation and environmental scientists will be needed to measure the impact of climate change on ecosystems and wildlife populations.

Changes in climate will result in human migrations. These disruptions will create demand for occupations as diverse as movers, real estate sales agents, urban and regional planners, community service managers, and social workers.

Of course, there will be--and is already--growth in the jobs whose purpose is to reduce the production of the greenhouse gases that are the root cause of global climate change. Solar panel installers, electric vehicle technicians, wind turbine mechanics, and biofuels production managers are some of these occupations. The Department of Labor is starting to develop information about these emerging green occupations, but reliable figures about average earnings and job-growth projections are not yet available.

Election Day is upon us, and I was disappointed to observe that global climate change was entirely overlooked in the presidential and vice-presidential debates. But science and politics are not always comfortable companions. The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has one member who believes that Earth is only 9,000 years old. (Ironically, my congressman, Rush Holt, does not serve on this committee even though he has taught college physics and has been the Assistant Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.) It does not seem likely that government will take the measures that will be needed to stop global climate change--if it is not already too late.  Private industry certainly will not step up to the challenge.

So it looks as if careers for a hot planet will be the hot jobs of the future.

Friday, October 19, 2012

College Education Is the Key to Economic Growth

This year's presidential campaign has created a lot of discussion about higher education. There seems to be bipartisan consensus around the idea that high school no longer provides the skills that young people need to keep America competitive and to find jobs in the 21st century economy. The real issue for voters is whether the policies of the candidates will boost college attendance.

Perhaps the low point in this discussion occurred when candidate Rick Santorum reacted to President Obama's call for all young people to get some kind of postsecondary education or training. The former senator from Pennsylvania misrepresented this as advocacy of college for everyone, and he accused the President of snobbery.

But, in fact, the importance of college keeps growing. To be sure, noncollege forms of postsecondary education and training--most notably apprenticeship--can teach very marketable skills. College, however, has consistently been the engine of employment growth in America's economy for two decades. Consider the following graph created by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. (It's part of their vital report, The College Advantage: Weathering the Economic Storm.)

Another way to look at the advantage of college (at the personal level, rather than at the national) is to compare the earnings of college grads with high school grads. Over the past several decades, the advantage has grown.
Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Surveys, March Supplement, 1968–2011.

But what about the rising cost of a college education? Isn't that eroding the value of college?

It's true that college is now 12 times more expensive than it was in 1978, whereas overall consumer products are only 3.6 times more expensive. However, increases in the availability of financial aid for college have offset much of this increase in sticker prices, especially at public colleges. The College Board calculates that public four-year colleges raised their tuition and fees between the 2006-07 and 2011-12 school years by about $1,800 in 2011 dollars. This is an annual rate of growth of 5.1% beyond inflation. However, if you account for what "in-state students pay after taking grant aid from all sources and federal education tax credits and deductions into consideration," the increase was only about $170, which is an annual growth rate beyond inflation of only 1.4%.

One of the sources of grant aid that is frequently referred to during the presidential campaign is Pell grants. It's important to understand that these grants have not been keeping up with the increases in college costs. During the 1979-1980 school year, the maximum Pell grant paid 77% of the average cost of a four-year public college. By the 2010-2011 year, that share had shrunk to 36%.

So pay attention to what the candidates are saying--and, more important, what their policy proposals indicate--about the future of Pell grants and other sources of college tuition aid. This country's economic growth depends on college attendance, and that in turn depends on financial aid. Governor Romney has remarked that his test of a government program is whether the benefits are worth borrowing for. If our government does not borrow to provide tuition aid, college students individually will have to take out larger loans than they already do (and those loans already exceed the amount of credit card debt). The government can get a much better interest rate than individual students can. To keep America competitive, this is an expenditure worth continuing--and increasing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Fastest-Growing Transferable Skills

In the computer industry, project management skills are highly sought-after. In the energy industry, employers are expected to open many jobs for engineers skilled at hydrofracting. But these are highly job-specific skills. What about transferable skills, the kind that are useful in almost any industry and occupation? Which of these skills have the best job outlook? 

To answer this question, I looked at the 35 transferable skills in the O*NET database and calculated their correlations with the percentage of growth that the Department of Labor projects. I was able to make these calculations for the 735 occupations that are included in both the O*NET and the growth-projections database of the Department of Labor.

Below, I identify the top 10 transferable skills and explain why demand for them is growing so fast. Note that I do not order the skills strictly by ranking, but rather I cluster related skills together.

I’m not at all surprised to find the following three skills so high in the rankings. These are all very important for jobs in our largest and fastest-growing industry: health care. In addition, many jobs in all industries are placing increased emphasis on working in teams. In these work settings, active listening and social perceptiveness can be very important skills.
Service Orientation
Definition: Actively looking for ways to help people.
Rank: 1
Correlation: 0.5
Active Listening
Definition:  Listening to what other people are saying and asking questions as appropriate.
Rank: 2
Correlation:  0.4
Social Perceptiveness
Definition:  Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react the way they do.
Rank: 5
Correlation:  0.4

The following two skills rank so high because the modern workplace is constantly changing and evolving. Workers need to master the stream of new technologies, new markets, and new business practices that affect their jobs. The second of these, learning strategies, also owes some of its high ranking to the projected high growth of teaching occupations, especially for adult education.
Active Learning
Definition:  Working with new material or information to grasp its implications.
Rank: 3
Correlation:  0.4
Learning Strategies
Definition:  Using multiple approaches when learning or teaching new things.
Rank: 8
Correlation:  0.4

The following communication skills are perennial necessities. Health-care careers, again, probably help explain the fact that speaking ranks highest of these.
Definition:  Talking to others to effectively convey information.
Rank: 4
Correlation:  0.4
Definition:  Communicating effectively with others in writing as indicated by the needs of the audience.
Rank: 6
Correlation:  0.4
Reading Comprehension
Definition:  Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.
Rank: 9
Correlation:  0.4

One way to understand the importance of the following skill is to consider what is happening to occupations that don’t require it at a high level: They are being either taken over by automation or shipped overseas to low-skill foreign workers. The occupations with growth potential require workers to evaluate options critically to make nonroutine decisions.
Critical Thinking
Definition:  Using logic and analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.
Rank: 7
Correlation:  0.4

No doubt you’ve heard about the projected growth of STEM careers. The following skill will be important in numerous health-care, technology, and technician jobs.
Definition:  Using scientific methods to solve problems.
Rank: 10
Correlation:  0.4

It may no longer be possible (if it ever was) to build a career on mastery of just one of these skills. For example, someone with spectacular science skills who wants to succeed in the job marketplace will also need to be good at communicating, learning, helping other people, or some other skill. For this reason, most bachelor’s degree programs include requirements that are designed to teach a good cross-section of important transferable skills. That’s also why employers value the degree so much.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How to Research an Employer

In last week’s blog, I discussed some reasons why job-seekers should research employers, together with some specific questions worth investigating. I did not have room to discuss how to do this research.
With a large employer, the company webpage is often a good place to start. Here are some important topics to explore:
  • An “About Us” link usually leads to important basic information. If there’s no mission statement there, use the Search box on the homepage to find one.
  • A “Press Room” or “In the News” link can lead to stories about recent developments at the business.
  • An “Investors” link can lead to statements about the company’s recent financial performance.
  • Click the “Careers” link to see what other kinds of workers are being hired.
  • Look for indications of the various products or services that the company offers.
  • Look for indications of the markets that the company targets.
  • Many websites are designed to steer you toward contacting sales staff. Avoid these links; they are not helpful for your purpose.
Keep in mind that the company website is designed to make the employer look good. It says only positive things about the employer. However, it’s useful for you to see what image the company wants to project, even though this is not the whole story of what goes on there.

Hoover’s Online ( is another place to find information about large employers. The basic information here is free; you do not have to subscribe or buy a report. On the company’s page, the Overview tab gives good basic information. The Competition tab tells you what other companies compete with this one and in what industries. The Financials tab provides many figures showing trends such as sales, assets, and liabilities.

LinkedIn ( also can provide much useful free information, although it’s more powerful if you register for the free membership and build a network of contacts. At the search box, select Companies and enter the name of the employer. The Overview tab shows basic information about the company and recent news items. LinkedIn also identifies any of your contacts who have some connection with the company. You may want to get in touch with them and ask them to share their insights.

Another way to identify knowledgeable contacts on LinkedIn is to select People at the search box but enter the name of the employer instead of a person’s name. You’ll see the names of your first-degree contacts who have some association with the company or, if you lack these, people linked to your first-degree contacts. Take advantage of these links to get in touch with these second- and third-degree contacts.

If you don’t have any contacts at the company, even through an intermediary, use the technique called “X-ray search” to identify people who work at the company and link to them directly. An “X-ray search” using Google or Bing employs sophisticated search strings that specify text you do and do not want to retrieve, so your search results only in profiles of people who have a connection to the employer and whom you can ask to be LinkedIn contacts or perhaps contact through other channels. The technique is too complex for me to cover in this blog; for detailed directions, search the Web for “X-ray search LinkedIn.”

The information you glean about the employer will enable you to ask more intelligent questions at the interview and to respond to the interviewer’s questions in ways that will highlight why you’re a good fit for this particular company.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Researching an Employer Before an Interview

Many inexperienced job seekers don’t realize how important it is to research the employer before you walk into an interview.  Here are some reasons:
The interviewer might ask: “Why should we hire you?”
You need to research: The focus and needs of the business.
Advantage you gain: You can explain why you’re the person who can fill the employer’s needs. (This can also be helpful in tailoring your resume and cover letter.)

The interviewer might ask: “Why do you want to work for us?”
You need to research: Advantages of working there, such as chances for job growth, good work/life balance, leadership in the industry, etc.
Advantage you gain: You can convince the interviewer that you’ll be a loyal worker.

The interviewer might ask: “What else can I tell you about working here?”
You need to research: Disadvantages of working there, such as long hours, high pressure, too much bureaucracy, and so forth.
Advantage you gain: You can ask whether these disadvantages apply to the particular job you seek. You also may be able to anticipate questions about how you would cope with stress or with demands for long work hours.

The interviewer might ask: “How do you see your future in this job?”
You need to research: The long-term goals of the business.
Advantage you gain: You can explain how you’ll serve future needs.

(What about how much the employer pays? You’ll need to know that eventually, when the interviewer offers you the job, but not for the initial interview.)

As you conduct research, for each question you investigate about the employer, you’ll need to ask a corresponding question of yourself. Your answer to the latter question will help you prepare for the interview in two ways: (1) You’ll be better able to answer the employer’s questions about you. (2) You’ll have a clearer notion of whether this employer is really where you want to work.

About the employer: What is the employer’s main purpose for being in business?
About you: How do you intend to contribute to this purpose? What qualifies you to serve this purpose? (Hint: For ideas, look at your resume.)

About the employer: What industry is the employer in?
About you: Do you have any experience in it? Are you interested in this industry?

About the employer: What kind of product or service does the business offer its customers/clients/patients?
About you: What training or work experience do you have with this (or a similar) kind of product or service? Do you like working with this kind of product or service?

About the employer: What kinds of customers/clients/patients does the business serve?
About you: What training or work experience do you have with these (or similar) kinds of customers/clients/patients? Do you like working with them?

About the employer: What is the employer’s role in the industry? (Leader, major player, strong competitor, small fry, newcomer?)
About you: What industry role for your employer would you like best?

About the employer: How many people work for the company? (If there are multiple sites, try to get a figure for the site where the job is.)
About you: What size employer would you be most comfortable with?

About the employer: What is the financial condition of the employer? Does it seem stable?
About you: If the employer seems stable, fine. Otherwise, are you willing to take a risk?

About the employer: What is the work/life balance like for workers at this employer? Are work hours long? Is there enough vacation time? Can workers get flexible time, daycare, or other arrangements for a better balance?
About you: What work/life conditions would you prefer (or tolerate)?

About the employer: What are your chances for career advancement at this employer? In this department?
About you: What are your plans for career advancement? Are you okay with the opportunities that the position is likely to lead to?

You may be unable to answer some of these questions about the employer. Don’t give up without a serious effort to answer them. But if the information is very hard to get, that’s okay, because then you have intelligent questions to ask at the interview.

You may also be unable to answer some of these questions about yourself—for example, what size employer you’d be most comfortable with. If you’re uncertain because you haven’t given enough thought to the question, take the time to do so now. On the other hand, maybe you don’t yet have enough work experience to have formed preferences. In that case, give the employer the benefit of the doubt, and express a willing-to-try attitude if the topic comes up in the interview.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Trends in Military Apprenticeships

In last week's blog, I wrote about indications that apprenticeships for civilians are starting to come back from their severe decline in the recent recession. This week, I'm looking at the trends in military apprenticeships.

You may not have known that many veterans leave military service possessing a nationally recognized certificate of completion, indicating that they have met the same requirements as civilian apprentices and therefore have the same mastery of skills required by the particular trade. Such a certificate must ease the transition to civilian employment for many vets. (I discuss this transition in my book 150 Best Jobs for the Military-to-Civilian Transition.) The United Services Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP) is an option for active duty service members in the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps.

 I looked at the recent trends in these programs, as shown in data reported by the Office of Apprenticeship of the Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor. One trend I discovered was a steady increase in the number of new military apprentices.
New Military Apprentices

Of course, not every service member who enters an apprenticeship program completes it. In fact, the number of program dropouts has also climbed steadily. Miltary Apprenticeship Cancellations

This increase in cancellations has caused the number of service members currently enrolled in an apprenticeship program to level off and decline slightly. The trends differ slightly for military men and women, but because women are a minority of those in uniform, the overall trend is closest to the first graph below:
Active Male Military Apprentices
Active Female Military Apprentices

The slight decline in the number of active military apprentices has not reversed the upward trend in the number of those completing apprenticeship--at least, not yet. Military Apprenticeship Completers

I'm curious about future trends. For example, I'm guessing that the coming pull-out from Afghanistan will encourage service members to stay enlisted longer and thus give them a greater likelihood of completing an apprenticeship. I also expect that Stateside deployment, as opposed to deployment in a combat zone, will also increase service members' opportunities to be engaged in apprenticeship programs. Finally, the continuing recovery of the civilian economy is likely to reduce attrition in military apprenticeship programs; as civilian job openings become more plentiful, service members will recognize an increase in the value of a certificate of completion.

But these are just guesses on my part. Stay tuned for future releases of data from the folks at the Department of Labor. I think the world of them!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Apprenticeship Is Coming Back

Apprenticeship is a system of job training in which trainees become highly skilled workers through a combination of worksite learning and classroom learning. It is sometimes called “the other four-year degree” because it often takes four years and it results in a nationally recognized credential that can open the door to income and job security that may be as good as or better than what college graduates enjoy. In my book 200 Best Jobs Through Apprenticeships, I identify many promising careers that can be entered this way.

This route to career entry is not as well-known as it deserves, and it has lost ground to college as an entry route even as college degrees have become increasingly expensive. Nevertheless, there are indications that apprenticeship as an entry route is starting to regain lost popularity.

As evidence of the recent decline of apprenticeship, I offer the following graph. Like all the graphs I prepared for this blog, it is based on data from the Employment and Training Administration of the Department of Labor. All apprenticeships and apprentices referred to in these graphs are registered with the federal Office of Apprenticeship or with a state apprenticeship agency.

The first graph shows the number of active apprentices. You can see that the number peaked almost 10 years ago, declined temporarily, rallied just before the recent recession, and then went into a steady decline.
Active Apprentices
Apparently this downward trend is not caused by a lack of apprenticeship applicants, but rather by a lack of available programs. The following graph shows the number of active apprenticeship programs, and the trend closely parallels that of the first graph.
Active Apprenticeship Programs
You’ll notice a similar trend in the number of new apprenticeship programs.
New Apprenticeship Programs
The good news is that it seems likely that these trends will soon reverse, now that overall hiring is picking up again. The industry with the largest concentration of apprenticeships is construction, and this is also one of the industries that has climbed most rapidly from its lowest ebb in the recession. It needs to recover much more before it takes on large numbers of apprentices, but it is moving in the right direction. The longer-term outlook is good. The Department of Labor projects strong growth for many of the apprenticeable occupations in this field, such as Helpers—Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters (60.1% growth projected for the 2010–2020 period), Helpers—Carpenters (55.7 %), Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers (48.6%), Helpers—Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters (45.4%), and Glaziers (42.4%).

You can already see an upward trend in the number of apprentices who are entering a program. The curve has started to recover from its recession low.
New Apprentices
Another good sign is the upward trend the number of apprentices who are completing their program.
Apprenticeship Completers
In case you’re wondering about where apprenticeship programs are most likely to be found, I looked at the number of registered apprentices as a percentage of the total paid workforce in 2011. I found that the state with the highest density of apprentices was Hawaii, with 1.2%, followed by the District of Columbia (0.8%); Alaska, Maryland, and West Virginia (each with 0.6%); and Indiana, Virginia, and Washington (each with 0.4%).

The states with the lowest density of apprentices, tied at 0.1%, were Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. Because many apprenticeship programs are created by unions, or by a partnership of unions and management, it is probably no coincidence that every one of these low-apprenticeship-density states has a right-to-work law. (Among the states with the highest density of apprentices, only Virginia, with 0.4%, had a right-to-work law in 2011.) Another factor that may explain many of the low-density states is the hangover from the home-mortgage crash; construction is lagging badly in states with large inventories of unsold and underwater houses.

UPDATE: I computed the percentage of the workforce that is unionized in the low-apprenticeship-density states. The average for these 9 states is 5.3%. For the 8 states with the highest density of apprenticeships, an average of 11.6% of the workers are union members.

In next week’s blog, I’ll write about the trends in military apprenticeship programs.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Seasonal Rhythms in the Workplace

I find this time of year a little depressing. Some of this malaise is because now is back-to-school season, and I never liked school (until I got to college). But I think a large share of my seasonal discontent stems from growing up in a beach town that effectively died each year at the end of summer. Although I didn’t think about it while I was growing up, I’m sure now that a lot of jobs also died each year when the beaches closed down. But seasonal employment is not restricted to beach towns and the summer jobs found there. You may be surprised at how many different seasons our economy experiences and the jobs that wax and wane with these seasons.

In the days when the economy was primarily agricultural, almost everybody was a seasonal worker. But even though nowadays farming employs a much smaller workforce, agriculture indirectly creates other seasonal job opportunities. In the apple-orchard hills of central Pennsylvania where my wife grew up, the canning plants still take on extra workers each autumn. Compared to most sectors of the manufacturing industry, food processing is much less threatened by foreign competition, so its seasonal rhythms will continue to affect employment patterns in agricultural regions for the foreseeable future.

In the retail industry, the main seasonal phenomenon is Christmas, of course. The December uptick in retail traffic creates opportunities for more than just those who directly handle merchandise, such as sales clerks and warehouse workers. It also creates jobs for security guards and loss-prevention officers, plus the workers at the food courts in shopping malls. Internet shopping has reduced some of the hurly-burly at retail stores, but it has created many seasonal jobs for package deliverers and order fillers.

Winter also gives a lift to the economy in tropical beach towns, on cruise ships, and near ski slopes. In northern states, snow removal provides many seasonal work hours. Furnaces are running more hours of the day and are inevitably breaking down and needing service by mechanics. Hospital emergency rooms typically are busiest at this time of year, treating people for flu, asthma attacks, and broken bones caused by slips and falls.

Accountants, financial clerks, and tax preparers get particularly busy in the winter and early spring, as tax documents need to be prepared and filed at this time of year. As spring progresses, nursery and greenhouse workers work extra hours to raise young plants for summer gardens.

Summer creates jobs not only in beach towns like my birthplace, but also in and around national parks and at lake resorts. Amusement parks and traveling carnivals take on workers. (It’s interesting that in Spain and some other warm-weather countries, the time and place for carnival rides is the Christmas season in shopping districts; one parent puts the children on rides while the other parent is shopping for presents.)

Some workers are able to shift from one job to another as the seasons change. For example, in my hometown a music teacher and a math teacher used their summers away from the classroom to run a miniature golf course on the Boardwalk. One of the English teachers worked at a soft ice cream stand near the beach.

In some occupations, the workers are employed year-round but are engaged in very different tasks according to the season. I once had a neighbor whose business consisted of painting stripes on parking lots. In the summer he was busy laying down white and yellow stripes, but in the winter he was lining up next summer’s clients and submitting designs. Many other businesses in the construction industry follow a similar rhythm.

Many of the job I have mentioned here provide opportunities for young people, especially during the summer vacation from school. On the other hand, as baby boomers get closer to retirement, seasonal jobs may provide opportunities for them to shift from year-round work to a schedule that is less continuously demanding.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Workplace Success for Introverts

In last week’s blog, I presented an updated list of the best jobs for introverts. (“Best” means those occupations [a] not requiring a large amount of social contact and interruptions and that [b] also have the highest economic rewards.) I felt the need to update this list because my YouTube video about this subject has drawn more than 40,000 views since I first posted it, plus many comments.

Many of the comments on the video were by introverted people who feel discouraged by their workplace experiences. For example, one wrote, “I applied for a job at Macy’s and Nordstrom, and they both give personality tests designed to SPECIFICALLY weed out the introvert! I was able to beat the test because I knew what they were doing, but still, you’d think they would want to weed out some ex-cons, child molesters, undercover terrorists...but noooo, they want to get those strange ‘introverts’ before we even make it to the interview!”

One of the reasons I wrote 200 Best Jobs for Introverts was to suggest strategies that introverted people can use to succeed in a workplace that often does not feel welcoming. Here are some to consider.

Try to negotiate arrangements with co-workers so that you’ll have times when you’re not interrupted except for emergencies. Perhaps you can get your boss to allow you to work at home for one or more days in the week. But in any such arrangement, accept the fact that at other times, when you are easy to access, you will have to make accommodations for people who interrupt your work. In meetings, ask for ground rules that allow everyone to be heard and try to schedule time-outs that will allow you to gather your thoughts.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is not doing the job well, but getting the job. The most effective way of finding a job—networking—is a technique that introverts may resist using because it involves so much social contact. Introverts can network successfully by concentrating on the strengths that they bring to the task: their understanding of themselves, their ability to articulate their skills, and their ability to cultivate relationships over time.

Finding a job opening is only half the battle; you still need to convince the employer to hire you. Introverts may be highly effective at crafting the perfect resume and cover letter, but they run the risk of being misunderstood in job interviews, especially if the person interviewing them is an extrovert. The interviewer may perceive them as “guarded,” “reserved,” “standoffish,” “private,” or “too serious.”

Again, you can compensate by using your strengths, especially your ability to prepare for the interview. Apply your research skills and do a thorough job of finding out whatever you can about the employer—and, if possible, the interviewer. Jot down some notes that will suggest intelligent questions you can ask about the business and your future role there. Assemble a portfolio that will provide examples of your best work. Your thorough knowledge of the business, your pointed questions, and your specific examples of your work will help dispel the notion that you are “aloof.”

You should also apply your strengths to the question of choosing a career goal. Remember that research in books or on the Web is not thorough enough for a decision of this importance. When you have identified a job that looks promising, you should visit a workplace and observe the workers, their tasks, and their surroundings. Prepare some questions to ask workers or the people who educate and train workers. They probably won’t mind if—in true introverted style—you cut through the chit-chat and move quickly to your specific questions. You’ll save them time from their workday and you’ll find out what you need to know about the job.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

200 Best Jobs for Introverts, Updated

The best-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, has raised people’s awareness of introversion. Although I have not achieved a similar level of success with my 2008 book 200 Best Jobs for Introverts, the video in which I discuss this book has received 48,000 hits to date and lots of comments. With the passage of time, some of the facts in the video have gone out of date, so I thought it would be helpful to create an updated list of 200 best jobs for introverts.

To create this list, I followed a procedure similar to what I used for the book. Using the latest edition of the O*NET database (release 17), I found the ratings for the work value Independence (which is defined as doing the work alone) and for three work context descriptors: Contact with Others, Face-to-Face Discussions, and Work With Group or Team. All of these descriptors are rated on a scale from 1 to 5. For the three work context descriptors, I subtracted the rating from 5 and thus created a rating for the lack of the feature. For an overall introversion rating, I calculated the average of the four ratings. Then I ranked the 605 occupations for which I had introversion ratings and discarded the lowest-ranked half.

Next, I removed 24 occupations with median annual earnings of less than $22,380; three-quarters of salaried workers earn more than that. I removed another 24 occupations because the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that they will shrink in size from 2010–20 and create fewer than 500 job openings per year. Two more occupations had to go because they lacked annual earnings figures.

At this point, 251 occupations remained on my list. I sorted these three times, based on these major criteria: median annual earnings, projected growth through 2020, and number of job openings projected per year. I then added the three numerical rankings for each job to calculate its overall score. To emphasize jobs that tend to pay more, are likely to grow more rapidly, and have more job openings, I selected the 200 job titles with the best total overall scores.

Here’s the list. The earnings figure represents the medians for May 2011. The growth percentage is projected for the years 2010–20. The job openings number is the average annual number of openings projected for the same period.

Personal Financial Advisors
Financial Analysts
Cost Estimators
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers
Accountants and Auditors
Brickmasons and Blockmasons
Industrial Machinery Mechanics
Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators
Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health
Commercial Pilots
Construction and Building Inspectors
Geoscientists, Except Hydrologists and Geographers
Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers
Biochemists and Biophysicists
Credit Analysts
Medical Equipment Repairers
Operations Research Analysts
Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers, Except Line Installers
Cement Masons and Concrete Finishers
Mobile Heavy Equipment Mechanics, Except Engines
Sheet Metal Workers
Technical Writers
Telecommunications Line Installers and Repairers
Automotive Body and Related Repairers
Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics
Graphic Designers
Environmental Science and Protection Technicians, Including Health
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists
Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists
Painters, Construction and Maintenance
Tile and Marble Setters
Billing and Posting Clerks
Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers
Hazardous Materials Removal Workers
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians
Payroll and Timekeeping Clerks
Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technicians
Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers
Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks
Pest Control Workers
Excavating and Loading Machine and Dragline Operators
Bus Drivers, Transit and Intercity
Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors
Cartographers and Photogrammetrists
Ship Engineers
Music Directors and Composers
Transportation Inspectors
Biological Technicians
Paving, Surfacing, and Tamping Equipment Operators
Surveying and Mapping Technicians
Writers and Authors
Mechanical Drafters
Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians
Audio and Video Equipment Technicians
Insurance Underwriters
Landscaping and Groundskeeping Workers
Rail Car Repairers
Anthropologists and Archeologists
Light Truck or Delivery Services Drivers
Parts Salespersons
Social Science Research Assistants
Elevator Installers and Repairers
Marine Engineers and Naval Architects
Structural Metal Fabricators and Fitters
Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents
Aircraft Structure, Surfaces, Rigging, and Systems Assemblers
Appraisers and Assessors of Real Estate
Radio, Cellular, and Tower Equipment Installers and Repairers
Soil and Plant Scientists
Pile-Driver Operators
Cabinetmakers and Bench Carpenters
Postal Service Mail Carriers
Materials Engineers
Insulation Workers, Floor, Ceiling, and Wall
Taxi Drivers and Chauffeurs
Inspectors, Testers, Sorters, Samplers, and Weighers
Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators
Coin, Vending, and Amusement Machine Servicers and Repairers
Motorboat Mechanics and Service Technicians
Fence Erectors
Court Reporters
Locksmiths and Safe Repairers
Mechanical Door Repairers
Bus Drivers, School or Special Client
Tire Repairers and Changers
Sawing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Wood
Legal Secretaries
Materials Scientists
Computer, Automated Teller, and Office Machine Repairers
Motorcycle Mechanics
Demonstrators and Product Promoters
Meat, Poultry, and Fish Cutters and Trimmers
Painters, Transportation Equipment
Architectural and Civil Drafters
Food Scientists and Technologists
Atmospheric and Space Scientists
Medical Equipment Preparers
Carpet Installers
Outdoor Power Equipment and Other Small Engine Mechanics
Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators
Woodworking Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Except Sawing
Metal-Refining Furnace Operators and Tenders
Electronic Home Entertainment Equipment Installers and Repairers
Political Scientists
Earth Drillers, Except Oil and Gas
Animal Scientists
Maintenance Workers, Machinery
Electrical and Electronics Repairers, Commercial and Industrial Equipment
Recreational Vehicle Service Technicians
Subway and Streetcar Operators
Electrical and Electronics Repairers, Powerhouse, Substation, and Relay
Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
Chemical Technicians
Driver/Sales Workers
Computer Numerically Controlled Machine Tool Programmers, Metal and Plastic
Farm Equipment Mechanics and Service Technicians
Mail Clerks and Mail Machine Operators, Except Postal Service
Order Clerks
Tax Preparers
Broadcast Technicians
Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators
Set and Exhibit Designers
Weighers, Measurers, Checkers, and Samplers, Recordkeeping
Couriers and Messengers
Avionics Technicians
Layout Workers, Metal and Plastic
Extruding and Drawing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic
Butchers and Meat Cutters
Helpers—Production Workers
Reservation and Transportation Ticket Agents and Travel Clerks
Terrazzo Workers and Finishers
Postal Service Clerks
Chefs and Head Cooks
Floor Sanders and Finishers
Bicycle Repairers
Rolling Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic
Traffic Technicians
Conservation Scientists
Fashion Designers
Conveyor Operators and Tenders
Painting, Coating, and Decorating Workers
Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials
Welding, Soldering, and Brazing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders
Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians
Coating, Painting, and Spraying Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders
Slaughterers and Meat Packers
Molders, Shapers, and Casters, Except Metal and Plastic
Home Appliance Repairers
Control and Valve Installers and Repairers, Except Mechanical Door
Mixing and Blending Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders
Packaging and Filling Machine Operators and Tenders
Separating, Filtering, Clarifying, Precipitating, and Still Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders
Engine and Other Machine Assemblers
Refractory Materials Repairers, Except Brickmasons
Molding, Coremaking, and Casting Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic
Wellhead Pumpers
Fish and Game Wardens
Chemical Equipment Operators and Tenders
Museum Technicians and Conservators
Multiple Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic
Agricultural and Food Science Technicians
Plating and Coating Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic
Pesticide Handlers, Sprayers, and Applicators, Vegetation
Camera and Photographic Equipment Repairers
Lathe and Turning Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic
Radio and Television Announcers
Agricultural Inspectors
Statistical Assistants
Parking Enforcement Workers
Dental Laboratory Technicians
Meter Readers, Utilities
Electro-Mechanical Technicians
Cutting, Punching, and Press Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic
Crushing, Grinding, and Polishing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders