Working in the 21st Century

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Working in the 21st Century

According to the traditional view of the American dream, a person grows up, goes to college, takes a job in his preferred career, works a lifetime while making contributions to both his business and his society, and then retires to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

There are still some places where that pattern holds true. Large academic institutions, for example, offer tenure, lifetime employment, and full retirement and health benefits. A high school graduate can enter the military, earn degrees, rise in rank, and receive retirement benefits after 20 years of service.

But the traditional working path has changed dramatically in most places. For example, some jobs are simply vanishing, perhaps never to return. According to a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics,1 there will be 150,000 fewer American farmers and ranchers by 2014, as large corporations take over the business of providing the nation’s food.

Stock clerks and employees who fill orders are being replaced by supply chain innovations, such as RFID tags and other automated technologies. Mail clerks, mail-machine operators, and parts sales staff will also be replaced, as electronic tracking and ordering become mature technologies.

Off-shoring is replacing traditional U.S. jobs such as sewing machine operators, while computer operators, who still run the larger, more complex mainframes, will eventually be made obsolete by newer, more intuitive designs. Those same intuitive designs are putting secretaries out of work, as their bosses choose to use their own computers instead of dictating.

And some 22,000 meter-readers are fast being replaced by transponders that communicate customers’ utility billing information to satellites for relay to the electric and gas companies.

In other areas, however, the demand for workers is booming. According to the Herman Trend Alert,2 the demand for skilled and educated workers in the field of energy and power generation is about to explode, as demand increases in China, India, and elsewhere. Engineers, technicians, and heavy machinery operators are in short supply, pressing the energy industry to its limits. Plants that make windmills aren’t operating to full capacity because of an inability to find workers to manufacture the blades that produce the power.

As more capacity is required, design and construction engineers, as well as production and operations specialists, will be in great demand. The shortages run deep into many industries. Across the globe, skilled construction workers and tradesmen are needed...

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