What Will Be the Jobs of Tomorrow?

Though it's likely to be 2014 before the economy picks up enough steam for robust job creation -- in the neighborhood of 250,000 a month -- it's worth looking now at what kind of jobs employers will be looking to fill.

SEE ALSO: Ripple Effects of Unemployment

Next in line: Health care. By 2020, health care will account for about a fifth of the U.S. economy (it’s 18% now). Count on the U.S.’s aging population and increased desire for and access to health care to spawn millions of new jobs -- from home health and nursing aides to laboratory technicians to nurses, surgeons and everything in between.

Not far behind health care: The hospitality and leisure industries, which will seek food preparers and servers, bartenders, amusement park workers, fitness instructors, tennis and golf pros, maids, and hotel workers of all stripes. The construction sector -- employing carpenters, bricklayers, drywallers, electricians, roofers, landscapers, earth-moving equipment operators, road pavers and so on -- and retail, with a growing need for cashiers, clerks and the like, round out the top five.

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Finally, we expect manufacturing, both old-line and high-tech, to generate up to 400,000 new jobs as well, particularly those in high demand such as machinists, welders and assembly workers, though all will need computer skills not required in previous generations.

If the good news is that job growth will return, the bad news is that a majority of new jobs will be lower-wage, paying at least 15% below the average for all workers. That’ll put a damper on economic growth, holding down median household income and gains in consumer spending, vital because consumers account for 70% of economic activity.

But not all new jobs will be at the lower end of the pay scale. Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody’s Analytics, points out that although jobs in services dominate, it's a mistake to think that they all pay a lesser wage.

He says, “I expect solid job gains in service activities such as accounting, legal, advertising, management consulting, architectural and engineering services, computer software and even financial services.” Add college teachers, nurses, sales representatives and truck drivers to the list of jobs with both growing demand and above-average compensation.

Plus there will be unpredictable winners -- jobs that don’t even exist now. As Nicole Smith, senior economist with the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, says, “Five years ago, we didn’t have apps (for smart phones, iPads and the like). Now there’s a whole industry creating them."

College graduates, of course, stand the best prospects for landing a good job, and those with degrees in science, math, engineering, technology and health sciences stand the best chance, especially if they have a smattering of economics or business training, too.

Some of the most lucrative specialties: Petroleum engineering, pharmaceutical sciences and, of course, computer science. College grads will also maintain an edge over workers who end their schooling after grade 12, earning $1 million more, on average, over their lifetimes.

But increasingly, a sheepskin isn’t the ticket to a good job that it used to be. With unemployment high, employers are often able to land college grads for positions that used to go to those with just a high school diploma -- and for the same money.

Of 9 million young people who earned degrees between 2006 and 2011, 2 million say that their jobs don’t require higher education. What’s more, trained nongrads with good skills can count on good demand for their services -- folks such as plumbers, electricians and HVAC mechanics. Also X-ray technicians, dental hygienists and aircraft mechanics. In fact, about one-quarter of licensed skilled workers earn a bigger income than the average college grad does.

Jerome Idaszak
Contributing Editor, The Kiplinger Letter
Idaszak, now retired, worked on The Kiplinger Letter as its economics writer for 21 years. Before joining Kiplinger in 1992, he worked for 15 years with the Chicago Sun-Times, including five years as a columnist and economic correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau, covering five international economic summit meetings. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from Northwestern University.