Career Planning for the 21st Century: A Liberal Arts Degree, a Varied Background, and a Willingness to Learn New Things May Be the Best Preparation for the Job Market of Tomorrow

By Gioia, Joyce; Herman, Roger | The Futurist, November-December 2005 | Go to article overview

Career Planning for the 21st Century: A Liberal Arts Degree, a Varied Background, and a Willingness to Learn New Things May Be the Best Preparation for the Job Market of Tomorrow


Gioia, Joyce, Herman, Roger, The Futurist


Many of today's young people will hold jobs in their lifetimes that don't even exist today. The best preparation is probably a formal liberal arts education combined with skill and specialty development through internships, work, or other nonacademic experiences.

Job candidates with broad, interdisciplinary backgrounds have become increasingly attractive to employers, and this trend is likely to continue in the future as more professionals are called on to perform an increasingly expanding range of tasks. Students in the liberal arts will be uniquely suited to these looming challenges, having developed a familiarity with a wide variety of ideas in both science and culture. This broad worldview will enable them to understand the relevance and context of seemingly disconnected ideas. These well-rounded workers will possess a nice mix of hard skills and soft skills, which they will apply to tasks ranging from delicate negotiations with people from other nations to daily interaction with complicated equipment and computer programs. All of these skills will be essential in the job market of tomorrow.

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What Will the Job Market Look Like?

Indications are that the economy will continue to grow in the United States and around the world for at least another decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Report for 2005, the U.S. economy is expected to add 21 million jobs by 2012. In the near term, jobs will continue to move from place to place, and so will workers. New jobs will be created at a rate that will give workers a variety of choices about where they work and what kind of work they'll do.

The World Future Society's 2005 "Outlook" report states that the fastest-growing field will be professional and business services, which are expected to gain 5 million new jobs by 2012. At the same time, low-skilled and menial jobs in areas like manufacturing and mining will face continued threats from outsourcing and automation. In the last decade, almost 10 million low-skill manufacturing jobs were lost due to automation, according to Harvey Cohen of the research firm Strategy Analytics. In other words, just as the economy will create new opportunities for employment, many jobs will be lost. Workers will have to be wary.

Some occupations will change in name only. As we continue to move deeper into what may be the most severe shortage of skilled workers in history, clever recruiters will become increasingly anxious to fill vacant mission-critical positions. They will apply new names to old jobs in efforts to attract applicants. In the past, job titles such as mobile accumulation sanitary engineer have been applied to people who ride on the back of garbage trucks, and sewer workers have been reclassified as subterranean engineers. Competition for talent--or even warm bodies--will force employers to manipulate job titles in ways that will be surprising.

Other jobs will evolve gradually until they no longer resemble their current predecessors. These incremental changes will be unnoticeable and will occur mostly in response to slight changes in the expectations of superiors, customers, or workers. Some of the modifications will be driven by technology, changing the way tasks are performed, if they're still performed at all. The same technological advances that eliminate the need for some jobs will create new needs for creativity or mechanical and operational know-how.

Some changes will be more radical. New positions will be created to do work that has never been done before. Most of these jobs will develop in response to shifts in the marketplace or due to advancing technologies.

An example of these new jobs is the U-Scan operator, the person who supervises customer use of self-checkout stations at supermarkets and retail stores. This technological advancement has eliminated many cashier positions, while creating a new, more highly skilled occupation.

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