The jobs of the 21st Century most likely will be found in service industries and probably will not require any new, unforeseen skills beyond the flexibility to accommodate frequent career changes.
Aside from those generalities, finding out what's to come is an iffy business. Futurists and statistical projections frequently differ on what jobs will be hot in the year 2000 and beyond, as well as what trends will affect the job market of the future.
Some experts predict a labor shortage as the nation enters the new century; others disagree, particularly as far as Southern California is concerned.
But they do agree that manufacturing industries--auto assembly plants, steel factories, tire makers and the like--will provide fewer jobs in the future, although production will not necessarily decrease. And they contend that the composition of the labor force will change, becoming older and increasingly female.
"Half of all jobs that exist today didn't exist 20 years ago, so the jobs of the future are no more visible to us today than our jobs were 20 years ago," explained futurist Roger Selbert, a former vice president of Security Pacific National Bank who has just opened a West Coast office dedicated to future research for Leo J. Shapiro & Associates, a Chicago-based market research firm.
Most experts agree that jobs in service industries will be the most plentiful in the not-so-distant future. But that doesn't mean that the United States is abandoning manufacturing or that we are becoming a nation of busboys.
"We are still a manufacturing powerhouse; it just takes fewer of us to do it," Selbert said. "We've been a service economy for 40 years, but that doesn't mean hamburger flippers and busboys and waitresses and maids."
Some of the fastest-growing job categories between now and the year 2000 will be in business services, said Gordon Palmer Jr., manager of economic analysis and development program for the Southern California Assn. of Governments (SCAG).
Those jobs include everything from janitors to advertising executives, he said. Financial institutions and insurance also fall into the services category.
Partly because of the aging of the nation's population, health services will be another big growth field--jobs from orderlies to nurses to brain surgeons, Palmer said. "Services is not necessarily a low-skill industry," he said.
Services already represent a bigger component of the cost of goods than they used to, Selbert said. For example, about 80% of the price of a car today represents indirect costs related to service jobs--the engineers, designers, accountants, advertisers and others--while 30 or 40 years ago, about 80% of the cost of a car reflected raw materials and assembly line costs, he said.
In Southern California, SCAG predicts that employment in service industries will increase 4.2% by the year 2000, compared to 1984 levels. In contrast, manufacturing jobs will rise only 1.2%.
Nationwide, service occupations will add the most new jobs--nearly 6 million--by 2000, compared to 1984, according to Workforce 2000, a report prepared by the Hudson Institute for the Labor Department. The second-largest number of new jobs will be managerial, up 4.28 million, followed closely by marketing and sales, up 4.15 million.
The largest percentage gainer will be lawyers and judges, up 71%, the report predicted. Construction trades will increase 68%, while health diagnosing and treating occupations will jump 53%.
"The shift to services will bring with it broad changes in the location, hours and structure of work," the Labor Department study stated. "Service jobs tend to be located where and when the customer wants them, rather than centralized as are manufacturing jobs. Partly as a result, the typical workplace in the future will have fewer people, and the average workweek will become shorter with more people employed part time."
Selbert pointed out that projections of future job growth will almost certainly be wrong to some degree, because they are based on past data as well as trends in today's job market, which could easily change. The predictions don't take into account changes in demographics, technology or life styles, he said.
Although the nature of jobs and the equipment used may change drastically in the future, the basic skills needed will remain remarkably similar, futurists said.
"I'm often asked, 'What are the skills we're going to need in the future? Will (workers) need to be computer literate or technologically competent?' " Selbert said.
"I say they'll need the same skills they've needed for the last 100 years. They'll have to be able to read, write and understand directions. And they'll have to have a work ethic, which means showing up to work every day, on time, well-dressed and well-groomed."