How can one really predict a certain career availability in the future?

My son is looking into several career options. One problem is wondering what areas will have job openings 10 years from now and what will not.

It seems like the schools that produce graduates for those fields all want to paint a rosy picture to attract students. Companies will advertise job openings to ensure a never ending supply of labor. Those persons in the field might just paint a less than rosy outlook to persuade younger workers to look elsewhere so as to preserve their jobs.

So who can one trust?

If it’s the career du jour, avoid it, because it will be an oversaturated field by the time he graduates.

If people who work in the field tell him not to pursue it, they’re right.

What is your son interested in doing?

When I first got online, I subscribed to an ISP that a guy was running by himself out of a room above a nail salon in a strip mall. He had the right idea, he was trained and dedicated to the biggest growth industry in the history of mankind, and put his heart, soul and life savings into it, and did it well… A couple of years later he was selling used cars, because he was TOO right, and the big money swamped the bandwagon, and gobbled up all the business that he (and thousands of others) had so tenderly nurtured.

When I was a kid, a friend’s grandfather told me to “become a mortician or a plumber – two things people will always do is die and shit.”

Building core strengths will prepare one to be prepared for the future. Being “fluent” in any the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) areas is a good start. Or having an accounting background, as in one may not be a CPA but understanding all the ins and outs of budgets, budgeting, accounting is a huge advantage climbing the corporate management ladder.

Being a critical thinker and looking 5 years ahead at the types of areas or companies you should be working for. For example, it was pretty obvious 5 years ago that one should be trying to build a career at Google and not Yahoo.

Sales or partner management. If you can sell, there will always be things to sell. You just want to be selling at the right level.


Anyone who tells you that you can guarantee a healthy and secure career 10 years in the future simply by choosing the right college major is trying to sell you something.

Staying employable is a lifetime pursuit. What you do in college (and this is not just academically- internships and work experience are often more important than your major) can get you into an entry level job, but that’s just the first step.

You have to assume that by mid-career, the landscape will have changed. New technology will come. You’ll be affected by whatever is happening in the economy. Old geographic hubs will fade and new ones will rise. Entire industries can rise and fall in 10 years.

The people who can survive these changes are the people that adapt to them. They keep learning new technology and new skills. They make smart shifts in their career paths. They build diverse professional networks. They move to where the opportunities are.

So yes, choose something “smart” that has reasonably abundant entry level options and some kind of path forward. But also choose something that intersects with your talents and interests, where you will grow and thrive. The number that matters the most is not where “a person” is likely to succeed in 10 years, but rather where you are likely to succeed.

I agree - you can’t. Working in computers was great unless your graduated right after the bubble burst. Being a lawyer was great unless you graduated in the heart of the recession.

Better to learn something you are really good at so long as it has some employment potential. There is almost always room for the best in a field. And of course do something you like, so you’ll be happy when you get a job.

Even if nobody can actually predict career outlook, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does their damnedest to try. You want their Occupational Outlook Handbook. It looks at broad trends in conventional fields, and necessarily will miss major economic shifts. Still, at the very least it should be a good sanity check.

Most people responding to your question have done all the right things. But the problem is that they don’t really know which of those have kept them employed. They can guess they are safe because they’ve kept current on their skills or maintained a good network of contacts. But it can also be that luck has been on their side thus far, and that tomorrow it’ll catch up to them. Perhaps you should find some folks who are in the ranks of the long-term unemployed/underemployed and ask them if they have any regrets about the decisions they’ve made. That might be just as educational as the responses you get here.

Seems to me that people who aren’t afraid to quit tend to fare better in an unpredictable job market than those who value job security above everything. I’m guessing that the latter tend to build their identity around a specific career, while the former just want to do meaningful work–doesn’t matter doing what. I have a sister who is like this and I love her for it. From one moment to the next, I never know what’s she’s doing. But she’s always got a job. One day she’s helping people with their financial portfolios, and the next she’s handling baggage for an airline. She never has to worry about her skills becoming obsolete because she’s based her whole work life on acquiring as many of them as possible. Me, on the other hand, have my identity wrapped up in being a scientist. I do think I’ve done a good job keeping my skills marketable and my name “out there” to potential employers. But if the winds were to suddenly change in my industry, I’d struggle psychologically for a while.

So if I had to give one piece of advice, I’d tell a youngster to avoid getting too attached. Not to a particular industry, position, workplace, geographic region, or even lifestyle. Attachment makes it that much harder to recognize when you need to start doing something else.

I’m assuming your son wants to go to college, but I’m just going to throw this out there for anybody: Don’t overlook the trades. People will always need electricians, plumbers, welders, masons, etc. You can make good money and know your job isn’t going to be outsourced.

If you are going to work in the US, I would steer clear of anything to do with manufacturing. As long as we have free trade agreements, the workers will have to compete with whatever 3rd world population that is available. I worked for a company, a very successful one, who’s ceo stated that “brains were the cheapest cut of meat”. Engineers get tossed by the time they are 50.


You can’t. It doesn’t really matter though. You shouldn’t look at college as a way to market time the hot fields in a decades time. What you should be looking for is a broad set of skills you can apply to whatever industry is in demand. Computers and IT are never going away. The law is never going away. Finance and accounting are not going away. The specifics of those industries may change and evolve, but it’s not like you are suddenly obsolete as soon as you graduate.

Computer programming isn’t going away. Nor are health care fields. Or funeral directors, soon enough the baby boomers will be dying to give them business.

College isn’t where you learn X, Y and Z, it’s where you learn how to learn stuff, such as X, Y, and Z.

I’m an ex-Computer Science prof. None of the stuff (as perceived by an outsider) I learned in CS as a student was directly useful 10 years later. Never mind 30+ years later.

I taught, for example, C++ programming which wasn’t around long ago. How did I learn it? Did I take a class?

No! I taught myself. Took very little time.

I’ve learned so many programming languages, operating systems, applications, etc. over the years it’s mind boggling. All self taught.

What I learned as a student was how to learn this stuff. So learning new stuff later is easy.

And it also crosses disciplines. I’ve had to pick up some stuff from other areas from time to time. I used the Old College Try method on all those.

One thing that helped when a student is I didn’t want to be spoon fed. That’s bad. I read ahead of the lectures, worked on stuff not assigned, etc.

If you focus on teaching yourself to learn when in college, you’ll go far, regardless of field.

As to making predictions: If anyone knows for sure what’s going to happen 30 years from now, their psychics, not forecasters. Guessing about the future is a loser’s game.

Yeah, it’s basically impossible to predict the job market more than a few years down the road. It’s like trying to predict the weather more than a few days in advance.

Me, I got a degree in Chemical Engineering, hoping to work in the plastics industry. Everybody promised that we would have no trouble finding jobs that paid well. Except, I graduated in 1998, in the middle of a major recession when nobody was hiring engineers. I ended up working in the material testing field, unrelated to my degree.

Alternatively, I could have moved down to Texas and gotten into the oil industry. (I didn’t mainly because I didn’t want to move away from my family.) I would have been fine for a while, but these days that job would be in major jeopardy. I’m pretty sure nobody 10 years could have predicted that the entire oil industry would be a tailspin right now.

ETA: Also, back in college I had bought into the “peak oil” nonsense, so I expected that the oil industry would start to wither away in the near future.

Even in the most predictable markets, prediction is poor.

For example, census figures clearly defined the baby boom’s rabbit-in-the-snake progress through the charts. Extrapolating from that can still be a crapshoot.

A lot of school kids and retiring teachers means big demand for teachers, right? Well, no. The folks predicting the teacher shortage failed to notice how many newly-graduated teachers there were. The teacher shortage became a glut just as my wife hit the streets with a teaching degree.

We baby boomers are getting older now, so more of us are dying. I know a guy who got into the hand-crafted wooden casket business. He did okay, but not as well as he expected. More people opted for cremation, and that hurt. The recession cut into the market for high-end caskets, and folks started buying imported chip-board boxes covered in plastic laminate.

I started learning my CS stuff over 45 years ago. Specific languages and applications I learned back then are not too useful now. But I taught data structures when I was an Instructor one term in grad school, and that has been useful ever since. So have the concepts of compiler writing. And graph theory.
So some of the stuff has been very useful in the long run.
I’ve seem CIOs complain that colleges don’t teach whatever application is hot today. Any college that does that instead of teaching the fundamentals (and how to learn) is shortchanging its students. These CIOs don’t want to spend the money to train new employees, but rather get someone ready to go right now. In five years when that application is obsolete they’ll fire the lot and get a new batch. And complain some more about the lack of talent.

I’m going to retire in about six weeks so I’m pretty safe. They won’t lay me off with severance no matter how much I ask them to.
I just wrote a column relating the five stages of mourning to dying companies and projects, and the one that works best is denial. Tons of people, because they are scared of quitting, convince themselves that their company which is bleeding money is going to be fine. Or that their bad reviews don’t matter. I’ve never been laid off partially because I quit at opportune times. Finding a job and then quitting is much better for your financial reserves than getting surprised.