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The Future of Work? More Home Health Aides Than Software Developers

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The computer science field is hot.

But when it comes to the fastest-growing occupations and the fields that will create the highest number of jobs over the next decade, health care is even hotter.

That's one of the big takeaways of new employment projections released Tuesday by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The numbers represent the federal government's best guess on what the labor market will look like between 2016 and 2026.

Such projections are "useful for highlighting trends and tendencies," but "should not be taken too literally," said economist Paul Osterman, an MIT professor who used to run workforce-training programs for the state of Massachusetts.

For the education world, Osterman said, the key things to consider are not only where jobs will be created, but where they will be destroyed, and where retirements will take place.

"Looked at this way," he said, "there will be a lot of middle-skill jobs that [young] people can aspire to."

Home Health Aide the Highest-Growth Occupation 

Overall, the BLS believes, employment will increase from 156.1 million to 167.6 million over the next decade, with the U.S. workforce becoming older and more diverse.

According to its projections, the fastest-growing jobs will be in renewable energy, with the number of solar-panel installers and wind-turbine technicians likely to double by 2026. But those fields will net only about 16,400 new jobs total.

The real demand will be for home health aides (a projected 425,600 new jobs) and personal care aides (754,000 new jobs), the result of an aging U.S. population. Physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and physical therapist assistants are also occupations likely to grow at a healthy clip.

The BLS does see about a quarter-million new jobs for software and applications developers. According to the federal numbers, people in those positions currently make about $100,000 per year—similar to physician assistants and nurses, but nearly five times as much as health aides.

The future also appears bright for relatively small numbers of mathematicians and statisticians.

What Does the Future of Work Hold for Schools?

As part of Education Week's new coverage of schools and the workforce, we talked with a wide range of economists and technologists about how they see the future of work unfolding. Many worried that automation, artificial intelligence, and other technologies will contribute to enormous disruption in the economy, creating a polarized labor market with a few rewarding, high-paying jobs at the top and mostly low-paying, dead-end jobs for everyone else.

Given the range of projections (and fears) about the future, many believe that teaching students to "learn how to learn" is the most valuable thing schools can do.

Beyond occupational projections, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also looked at potential demographic and other changes in the labor market.

The percentages of Asian and Hispanic workers will grow fastest, the BLS believes, with 1 in 5 U.S. workers being of Hispanic origin by 2026.

Today's students will also increasingly compete with older workers for jobs: The share of workers aged 55 and older, which was just 16.8 percent in 2006, is expected to grow to 24.8 percent by 2026.

And college still looks to be important: Of the 30 fastest-growing occupations identified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19 typically require "some level of postsecondary education."

That should contribute to an increasingly lively conversation about the extent to which the education sector should focus on getting all students through to a bachelor's degree. 

You can see more from the Bureau of Labor Statistics here.


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