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Future Jobs of the Past

“High-skill job groups are projected to continue pacing occupational growth as groups requiring the most education and training are estimated to grow faster than average”

The prediction above comes from a 1987 article in the Monthly Labor Review from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Many of the predicted trends in occupations of thirty years ago still ring true today. In the article, the importance of computers and robotics across industries was clearly evident. The easiest-to-automate jobs were predicted to have flat or negative growth:

  • “Office automation and other technological changes are expected to cause employment to decline in several [administrative support] occupations, such as typists and word processors.”
  • “The drop in manufacturing employment and increasing factory automation are largely responsible for the lack of employment growth in [the operators, fabricators, and laborers group]”
  • “The increasing use of industrial robots, for example, is expected to cause electrical and electronic assemblers to be the fastest declining occupation…and to cause a more modest…decline for welders and cutters”

Meanwhile, jobs more closely aligned with computer use and higher-order thinking were projected to be among the fastest growing:

  • “…the computer and peripheral equipment operators group [is] expected to grow rapidly due to the ever-increasing use of computers throughout the economy.”
  • “The number of operations and systems researchers is projected to grow very rapidly due to the increased importance of quantitative analysis throughout industries”
  • “Employment of executive, administrative and managerial workers is expected to increase…due to the ever-increasing complexity of business operations…”
  • “Computer-assisted design equipment will allow architects to provide more flexible services by producing variations in design more easily”

Of course, some specific job predictions reflect the latest developments of the time, such as the promise of genetics (before the sequencing of the human genome in 2003) and other popular topics in science:

  • “The number of life scientists is expected to grow…as genetic research expands into such areas as new medicines, plant and animal variations, and diagnostic techniques for genetic defects.”
  • “Employment opportunities are expected to open up in laser research, high energy physics, and other areas of advanced science”

So what can we expect over the next 30 years? The takeaway from the 1987 article was that more educational attainment and training was going to be key to meeting the demand for the fastest growing jobs. Numerous articles in recent years repeat this prediction. Automation and robotics continue, with even lawyers now at risk of eventually being replaced. And computer science jobs are certainly still on the rise. If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, Chmura has written a number of blog posts that touch on predictive trends in demographics, productivity, labor force participation, and automation.

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