Future of Work: Part 1 -- Growth Sectors
Mr. McGuire (Walter Brooke, as a family friend): I just want to say one word to you - just one word.
Ben (Dustin Hoffman as a young, uncertain career-seeker): Yes sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Ben: Yes I am.
Mr. McGuire: 'Plastics.'
Ben: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
Ben: Yes I will.
Mr. McGuire: Shh! Enough said. That's a deal.
Would that it were this easy to predict where the jobs will be in the coming years. Armed with this sort of knowledge, you could upgrade your learning and develop your skills to meet the approaching demand. Et voila: no more worries about being obsolete or dispensable!
History has taught us, however, that trends in employment can be anything but linear. Take, for the example, Information Technology (IT). Back in the late 90's and early 2000's, technology courses were all the rage. People from every sphere suddenly rushed to become Novell and Microsoft certified. With the DotCom boom in full swing, you were almost guaranteed a good job.
Flick the switch to May 2004. The halcyon days a distant memory, thousands of highly trained techno-savants remain underemployed, or even out of work. Such are the vagaries of demand and supply.
That being said, there are certain factors that can help us foretell where job growth is most likely to appear. Continued globalization is one such influencer. Demand for Canadian exports, such as lumber and other natural resources, is a bright spot. As countries such as China and India gear up for industrial expansion, Canada is well positioned to provide raw materials for growth.
Same with our oil and gas industries. The recent spike in prices for gasoline and natural gas might well catalyze renewed investment in these areas. If Middle Eastern oil supplies become more problematic, countries will be inclined to look to Canada, and others, for additional reserves.
There are downsides, of course, in terms of globalization's impact. An example of this is China's growing ability to export everything from finished steel to consumer electronics. It's getting harder to compete with such a low-cost producer. This, in part, is why our manufacturing sector has lost more than 70,000 jobs in the last 18 months. (Our higher dollar hasn't helped in this regard either).
To get more insight on the big picture, I spoke to Michael Hazell, President of Career Partners International/Hazell and Associates, a career management firm with international partnerships. His company helps a wide variety of downsized employees find new jobs and careers.
Hazell identifies the healthcare sector as one promising avenue for job growth here at home.
'When you look at the baby boomers and the aging population, there are all sorts of opportunities that arise,' he says. Hazell points to recent commitments by each federal political party to revitalize our Medicare system. This could mean more money to hire healthcare practitioners such as doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and associated service providers. Not to mention research dollars.
Education is another sector poised for significant growth, according to Hazell. 'We are facing a 'just in time' environment where people are constantly having to re-tool. This is leading more and more mature students to take courses simply to keep their skills up to date.' He adds that many boomers in early retirement are studying again for interest's sake, a movement expected to pick up steam as more of us move past our working years.
Meanwhile, the other end of the age demographic is also into learning. Our era of accelerating change seems to be making parents somewhat nervous. Private schools and learning centres for kids are booming. Better to give the little ones an edge from the start than to get clobbered when applying for med school.
What else is Hazell bullish on?
-call centres, in places like the east coast and northern Ontario, where bilingual labour is available and relatively inexpensive -alternate energy areas such as fuel cells and hydrogen -the trades, where not enough home grown talent exists -small business, which needs capable people who are willing to work flexibly, and even virtually Hazell goes on to mention the film industry as a possible growth avenue. Foreign production companies appreciate our stable government, reasonable dollar (compared to theirs), and the ready supply of trained workers -- from gaffers and key grips to actors and scriptwriters. This one could be a wildcard though as far as Hollywood goes: They've grown skittish about 'offshoring' American production, and a backlash to keep things at home has already developed.
If you're not inclined toward the mystique of movies and television, there's always the hospitality industry to consider. As people work harder and have less time to prepare meals, restaurants and take-out may take on more importance. 'People are prepared to pay more for their leisure activities,' notes Hazell. He cites the number of casinos being built to accommodate more upscale tastes.
If longevity and job security are your main concerns, there are definitely some areas to avoid. While IT is expected to rebound somewhat from its disastrous bottoming out, the threat of offshoring hovers ever-presently. People in Bangalore and Delhi, and elsewhere throughout India, are being trained to do the same kind of work as our white collar techies here in Canada.
Other formerly reliable occupations such as radiology (reading of x-rays), and insurance form processing, are migrating to less expensive countries as well. Eventually, it is predicted that pretty much anything that can be done on a computer will be at risk of being moved offshore. Why not, when you can cut your labour costs by up to 75%, or more in some cases?
With all the changes around us, you needn't hop a plane to feel jittery about your prospects, especially if you work in financial services. If the Liberals or Conservatives get elected in June, you can be certain they'll be revisiting legislation to open up our markets to greater competition. Thousands of positions could be lost, short term in particular, if the big banks and insurance companies merge and purge. Branch rationalizations, combining of countless redundant departments -- it could get awfully messy out there.
If you are feeling threatened by the prospects in your industry or profession, there are things you can do to proactively make yourself more marketable. Knowing where the jobs might be is a good start. Understanding what skills will be hot is another step in the right direction. The Conference Board of Canada has outlined many of the key competencies employers are looking for in its Employability Skills 2000+ report (www.conferenceboard.ca/education/learning-tools/employability-skills.htm). Upgrading your education and credentials may be critical, depending on your circumstances. www.CanLearn.ca is an excellent launching point.
One further means of planning ahead is to think about where the jobs of the future will be located across Canada. While mobility is an issue for many, there will certainly be pockets of robust growth where those who get there first will have an advantage. I'll cover some of those regions and localities in my next installment.
In the interim, keep in mind that a pragmatic approach to planning for career shifts is part of a bigger equation. Remember this: While demographics and economic trends are important, so is getting in touch with what you're passionate about. There is no better way to boost your chances of succeeding at work than by marrying your values, goals and drives to potential opportunities. As Hazell says, 'Be prepared to learn how to dance with change, but be true to yourself as well.'
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