How to Be Employable in 10 Years

In this unnerving job market, simply staying on the payroll can feel like completing an obstacle course blindfolded, backwards and in heels. But experts say the challenges we face today are ones that women are uniquely suited to overcome. Here, how to be an irresistible hire from now to 2023

by Liza Mundy
woman climbing over wooden fence image
Photograph: Geof Kern

In fact, many job developments will favor women, who are less likely to work in declining industries such as manufacturing and agriculture. The BLS estimates that the category of “professional and related occupations,” a catchall encompassing much white-collar work, will grow faster than average, and women make up 57 percent of this group, largely because we have improved our training and education credentials in a way that men have not. Women, who now earn the majority of postsecondary degrees, have positioned themselves to defy the decline in midlevel spots by hoisting themselves into higher-tier jobs rather than slipping, as many men have, into the lower tier.

Also safe: jobs that require physical presence—retail, teaching, public safety, medical work, waiting tables. Similarly, the more a job calls for creative thought, “the less susceptible” it will be to being offshored or automated, says Michael Wolf, a BLS economist. More broadly, there will be demand for white-collar workers capable of gathering, analyzing, projecting and otherwise making sense of the rising tide of information that is engulfing us—Big Data, as it’s called. These skills come down to the ability to sort, to graph, to perceive patterns in numbers, to not only collect and manipulate statistics but also comprehend their underlying message and to develop strategies based on that understanding.

“One of the hottest job categories expected to grow in percentage terms is market research analyst,” says Edwin Koc, who tracks trends in hiring as director of strategic and foundation research at the National Association of Colleges and Employers. “If you combine that with accountants—who are always at the top of the list—you really understand the need for businesses to both develop data and analyze it.” People who possess quantitative skills have a clear advantage in the marketplace, he continues, but even more valuable to employers are people who can be creative as well as analytic. “That requires a deeper understanding of the economy, business in general and the world,” says Koc. “That’s going to be perhaps the biggest change that will occur in the future. How you develop that skill set—that combination of creativity and analytic ability—is going to be the question.”

Contrary to popular belief, we are not becoming a gig-economy nation powered by an army of the pajama-clad self-employed. The BLS projects that the number of self-employed workers will grow more slowly than that of wage and salaried employees. Yet we won’t have the corporate identities our grandfathers did: Our economy is transitioning from the old lifetime-employment model to one in which your job and even your company are likely to disappear in five or 10 years. This means institutions may not invest in training for workers’ long-term future. “A lot of people are functioning as free agents, psychologically, in terms of their attachment to work,” says John Dorrer, program director at Jobs for the Future.

In addition, the baby boomers and those born in the early years of Generation X will be altering the landscape in another way: A decade from now, there will be a surge of workers ages 55 and up. Until recently, it was expected that boomers would retire en masse. “People were predicting a retirement tsunami,” says Lynn, “but it hasn’t happened.” What seems likely is that some boomers will stay in their jobs longer than expected; others will retire but return as contract workers. Of course, there are so many boomers that if only a small percentage retires, there will still be lots of openings for younger Gen Xers, as well as for the millennials coming up behind them.

First published in the February 2013 issue

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