Explore Labor Market Forecasts with Caution

Worker Wilbert Hernandez builds the foundation of an apartment complex under construction outside Watford City, N.D.
In this Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, photo, worker Wilbert Hernandez builds the foundation of an apartment complex under construction outside Watford City, N.D. (Matthew Brown/AP Photo)

Whether choosing your first career in your 20s or changing careers in your 40s, you've almost certainly asked yourself: What does the future look like for this field?

After all, you'll be investing a lot of time, energy and money pursuing the career you ultimately choose. So it's only natural to want some idea of whether that career will still be viable five or 10 years down the road.

Fortunately, you can tap into a variety of resources to answer your questions. Just be sure to evaluate the information you find with a critical eye.

Information Abounds

One of the best sources of labor market forecasts is the federal government -- specifically, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. In particular, two BLS publications can be of great help as you research the projected future of the careers you're considering:

  • The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a biannually updated guide that profiles hundreds of occupations in detail.
  • The Career Guide to Industries, a companion to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, discusses more than 40 careers from an industrywide perspective.

However, the federal government is, by no means, your only source for labor market forecasts. You can also get useful information from:

  • State Government Agencies: In Minnesota, for example, the Department of Employment and Economic Development's Labor Market Information Office has published Job Outlook to 2010, which outlines statewide labor market projections.
  • Researcher and Research Organizations: Pharmacy is a field experiencing a labor shortage. One organization that has examined current trends to make predictions about the field is the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
  • Professional Associations: Often, industry trade organizations will conduct labor market studies to give their members a better sense of the future of their field. The Information Technology Association of America publishes periodic forecasts of information technology hiring.

Caution Is Critical

Thanks to the internet, it's easier than ever to find labor market forecasts, but that doesn't mean you can let your guard down and blindly accept whatever data you find. Always keep the following in mind:

You're Dealing with Predictions.

Granted, these predictions are usually based on a significant amount of data culled from thorough research, but they are predictions just the same. Therefore, they aren't always correct, especially if economic or political conditions change significantly in the future.

There's the Potential for Bias.

Industry trade associations, for example, have a vested interest in getting people excited about entering the professions they represent. A trade association's labor-market forecast may not be completely objective.

You Need Only One Job.

You may get a sense that the predicted (again, the word predicted is emphasized here) future of the career you want to pursue is absolutely dismal. Dismal, however, rarely means impending extinction. Is the number of jobs in your chosen field predicted to drop drastically in the coming years? If so, don't close the door immediately on your career idea, at least not without doing more research. After all, you need only one job, not hundreds or thousands

Labor market forecasts, whatever their source, aren't crystal balls. But if you study them thoroughly and critically, they can be among the best tools you have as you contemplate which career path best suits your needs.

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