Where are the hot prospects in tomorrow’s labour market?
Mon 2 Apr 2012 by Andrew Whiteford in Labour market

There are many considerations in selecting a career not least of which is personal interest and job satisfaction. We spend so much of our life at work that we need to be happy in the work that we do. But future job prospects and earnings should also be a consideration. Will we get a job when we qualify? Will the salary justify the expense of the training?

In choosing a career ideally we should look at long term prospects for occupations as we would hope to stay in employment for the duration of our career. But job prospects at the time of graduation are important too. Not finding a job in our chosen field at the time of graduation can damage our long term career prospects. Not working in our chosen field erodes the skills and knowledge obtained during study and increases the chances of being channelled into a career for which our qualifications are irrelevant.

It is difficult to look into the future and identify which occupations are likely to have good prospects, especially at the point at which we qualify. Infometrics' forecasts of industry growth and the changing skills needed within industries can give us clues about which occupations will be in growing demand in the near future.

The New Zealand economy is hungry for high level skills. Indeed, nearly half of all new jobs created over the next five years will ideally require a degree. A commerce degree is a safe choice as it is the category with by far the biggest expected increase in demand. Demand for these qualifications will be supported by robust growth in the financial and business services sectors which have been the growth leaders in the New Zealand economy over the past decade.

Another growth leader is telecommunications which has been expanding rapidly, and will continue to do so, with the ever widening range of telecommunication services available to households and businesses. Prospects for highly skilled occupations within the industry, such as professional telecommunication and electronic engineers, are outstanding. However, prospects for lower skilled technicians are less rosy as rapid technological advancement in the industry is resulting in the industry substituting technicians for graduate engineers.

A field of study with good prospects is information technology. Demand for IT professionals will grow as firms invest in new IT systems after underinvestment during the recession. Job prospects are enhanced by the low supply of new IT graduates. At Canterbury University, for example, the number of people taking computer science has declined by 70 per cent since 2000, when the dotcom bubble burst.

After poor prospects for many years, it is now a great time to get a trade qualification, although of course prospects differ across fields of study. Demand for trades workers has been suppressed in the past by the decline in manufacturing and more recently construction. Prospects in both of these sectors are turning around.

Prospects for the building trades and indeed most occupations related to construction including structural engineering, architecture, and surveying are excellent. During the next few years activity in the construction industry is predicted to pick up to levels even higher than the peak of the building boom in the mid-2000s. It is not just the rebuild in Christchurch that will contribute to this but also repair work to leaky buildings and the rapid growth in residential construction which will be required to overcome the shortage of residential accommodation that has built up during the construction slump over the past five years. New Zealand has underinvested in infrastructure over the past 20 years and efforts to rectify this over the next decade will also contribute to strong demand for construction occupations.

The manufacturing sector has been in long term decline as many New Zealand manufacturers have been unable to compete with low cost Asian producers. However, New Zealand manufacturers are now lean and efficient and made up largely of niche manufacturers that do not compete with the mass producers of Asia. It is likely that the job shedding of the past few decades is over and that the recovery in world demand will lead to growth in employment in the manufacturing sector. This will create opportunities in many of the trades as well as for specialist managers and machine operators.

Give the scarcity of information in New Zealand about future job prospects it is hardly surprising that Kiwis don't make career decisions based on labour market prospects. Research by David Grimmond of Infometrics shows that there tends to be herd behaviour in choosing fields of study. People choose qualifications that are in vogue with slightly older students at the time. Unfortunately there is not much evidence to suggest that these training fashions are related very well to future career prospects. This is bad news for our labour market as it leads to cycles of surpluses and shortages.

Our young people need better labour market information to make informed career decisions. At a minimum they should know what wages they could expect on graduation and as their career progresses. But prospective learners should also have information on which occupations offer good prospects in the future.

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