Occupations Today and Tomorrow

Attempting to foresee future economic, political and social outcomes is a perilous exercise, even when confined to the next five and more so for the next ten years. Here I outline the possible impact on occupations of selected demographic and technological changes in relation to Canada. One thing is certain, the next few years will see an ageing of the population and people living longer. Even now it is not unusual to know a number of people living beyond a century. And there will continue to be numerous technological changes.


An ageing population presents a series of implications. With a fixed population size, the share of those available for the workforce will decline. There will be increased demand for medical services and for those caring for the elderly, as governments health budgets are already experiencing. This will provide job opportunities in certain health and care related fields.

While an ageing population diminishes the size of the workforce, there are adjustments which can be made such as raising the age of retirement, encouraging retirees to remain working and attracting more women into the workforce. Living longer means that savings may be inadequate for a longer period of retirement, and cause people to work longer. The ability to move work to the worker at home, as opposed to moving the worker to the work will increase employment flexibility and make working longer a more attractive proposition.

I am not convinced that encouraging higher rates of immigration is a necessary solution. There are countries with ageing populations which have not had a marked population increase, Switzerland and the Nordic countries for example, which seem to have survived. Japan is an extreme case of population ageing. It has experienced economic stagnation for the past two decades, but only a part of this is due to the age structure of its population.  However, demographic factors will influence the demand for different types of jobs.

Technological change

Much of the change over the past ten years has evolved from developments in communications technology. Too numerous to list, some writers suggest that we are only about 5% on the way to the changes which are yet to occur. What the future will look like is impossible for the layperson (like myself) to predict. However, there are publications which monitor developments in these and other areas. One of these is the Economist which has a quarterly review of technology, and in its May 25, 2013 edition published an article entitled “The Age of smart machines, Brain work may be going the way of manual work.”http://www.economist.com/news/business/21578360-brain-work-may-be-going-way-manual-work-age-smart-machines

Another source is McKinsey and Company which discusses disruptive technologies. These are ones likely to disrupt traditional production processes, and while killing certain types of jobs will create new ones. http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/disruptive_technologies

Over the next ten years, many jobs will become extinct while new ones will be created. Keeping up to date will be the challenge for determining what type of skills will be needed.

What are today’s occupations?

It is possible to consult reliable statistics on occupations in the Canadian labour force (and that of other countries), far more reliable than many financial statistics which are monetary measures. The former measure real people in real jobs, and a 7% unemployment rate means that 93% of the workforce is employed. The question is in what industries and occupations are they employed today, and in the future where will there be strong demand and for what particular skills.

Using Canada as an example, with a labour force of 19 million, the 93% of those employed constituted 17.6 million persons in April 2013. The goods producing sector accounts for 22% (3.8 mil) and the services sector for 78% (13.8 mil). Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM Tables 282-0088, 282,0089.

The 3.8 million employed in the goods producing sectors are distributed by industry:


Agriculture                                               321

Forestry, fishing, mining, oil & gas        358

Utilities                                                     134

Construction                                            1301

Manufacturing                                        1736

The 13.8 million in services:


Trade                                      2685

Tpt and Warehousing             852

Fin. Ins. Real Estate               1124

Professional sci. and tech.     1348

Business, building services      692

Educational                              1291

Healthcare and soc. Ass.         2187

Info. Culture, recreation           785

Accom. and food                       1121

Other                                           746

Public Admin.                            974

Stating that Canada is predominantly (78%) a service economy is not especially helpful as services cover a wide range of skills from store clerks to computer programmers and from cleaners to surgeons. While the country does have a resource based economy, this sector accounts for only 2% of employment and agriculture for 1.8%.

Over the years there has been a phenomenal increase in agricultural output associated with a declining number of employees and share of the workforce.  Capital has substituted for labour with mechanization; crop yields per acre have increased with improved seeds, fertilizer and land-use practices. A typical cow now produces 22,000 lbs of milk per year compared with 5,300 lbs in 1950, a remarkable 5% increase a year for each of the past 60 years.

Another Statistics Canada Cansim Table 282-0009 for April 2013 shows the occupational classification of the workforce. For example there are 3.1 million people in business, finance and administrative occupations of which 19% are in professional jobs and 52% in clerical occupations. In health occupations, 48% are labeled as professionals and 52% as technical, and related occupations.

For those considering a service related job, being told that Canada is predominantly a service economy with 78% of the workforce classified as such is not much help. However the numbers can be broken down to show which service industry is growing and which stagnant and declining. A further means of inquiry is to talk to people who have retired from a chosen occupation, those who have been in it for several years and those contemplating entry. From these sources, it will become clearer what particular skills will be in demand.

Apprenticeships and lifelong learning

A typical progression is pre-school, junior school, high school, and university and/or community college. Data show that those with a university degree have higher lifetime earnings and are more likely to be employed (or have a lower unemployment rate) than those without a degree. But there are considerable differences between those with degrees in different areas, and those with a graduate as opposed to an undergraduate degree. For example a bachelors degree in Computer Studies and Engineering will have higher lifetime earnings than those with a BA in English and Sociology. Thus the choice of course taken will partly determine future income. It may also determine job satisfaction, where a lower paying job coincides with the individual’s preferences.

Because a university education is considered the pinnacle of the educational ladder, the discussion tends to ignore those occupations which do not require university attendance, but which can be rewarding and generate job satisfaction.

Examples include people who are interested in cooking, becoming chefs and perhaps restaurant owners, and even a celebrity chef, carpenters who find satisfaction in cabinet making, building and renovating housing, plumbers and electricians, healthcare workers, dental technicians, firefighters and so on. These occupations may require both on the job training and attendance at a community college as opposed to a university.

Increasingly students today are attending community colleges on their own, after a university degree to gain practical experience or in conjunction with attending university. The range of courses offered is best seen by visiting a college’s website, like Algonquin College (but there are many others). Under ‘A’, for example, are Advertising Management, Automotive Service Technician, Aviation Management, Architectural Technician. Full and part –time courses are offered. Significant salaries can be earned in occupations such as plumbers, electricians, police workers, fire fighters, and healthcare professionals amongst others.

Some employers offer work-study arrangements where students get the opportunity to work part-time while studying. This can be an advantage both to the student and the employer providing a sort of apprentice arrangement. In some countries this is a formalized part of the educational arrangements. Austria, Germany and Switzerland have a tradition of combining schooling with a system of apprenticeships which helps to adjust labour supply to current needs.

But current conditions may not assure lifetime employment and individuals will have to engage in continuing education (lifelong learning). This is often available online, and may not require actually taking time off for further study and loss of income. While professions have always been required to update their skills, this will also apply to most other occupations. The idea that persons receive their education and training in their early years will increasingly be replaced with some learning in these years, and more in later years in order to stay abreast of developments affecting their occupations, and even for changing occupations.



One Response to “Occupations Today and Tomorrow”

  1. Killaine Says:

    Another trend I find interesting is the proliferation of things you can study for a Bachelor degree. It used to be that you studied is one of the standard core areas, and when I was in school things like Journalism, Computer Science, and ….International Affairs….were the outliers. Take a look at the number of disciplines now within just an engineering program, or take a look at a place like Capilano University where it seems you can select a BA in Autism, Tourism Management, or Jazz Studies – Education. I can’t help but wonder if all this specialization is still providing students with the somewhat rounded education and wider view of things a university degree used to bring with it.

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