Your Career: A Good Choice for the Future?

Hands over a crystal ball which reads "The Future of Your Career" inside.

Perhaps you are making a career choice for the first time. Or, maybe you are already working but have decided to change career fields altogether. Either way, making a career choice is a serious decision, one which will certainly impact you for years into the future.

Sure, you want to choose a career about which you are passionate and excited. Unless you’re already wealthy, you also expect it to pay the bills and support the lifestyle you want. Unfortunately, many people stop analyzing their career choice right there. They forget to ask a very important question. What does the future look like for this field? Of course, nobody can predict the future with absolute certainty. However, there are resources which can help you at least make an educated decision.

A Real Example

Years ago, a friend told me he was going to change careers.  Like many people, he had a job but wanted a real career. He wanted to learn a marketable skill which would serve him for years to come.  In fact, he had already started taking classes at a local college and seemed to be well on his way. You could see the excitement on his face and hear it in his voice.  Naturally, I asked what field he had chosen.  “Drafting,” he said proudly, “I really like drawing and there will always be a need for drafting.” I said, “That’s great! Which drafting software will you be learning?”

Back at that time, computer-aided design (CAD) drafting software packages like AutoCAD® and MicroStation® were rapidly entering the workplace. These then-new tools were quickly becoming the norm for performing drafting tasks. Computer terminals were replacing drafting tables with lightning speed. “Oh, I’m not learning any software. Besides, I don’t like computers,” he said, “I’m learning to do drafting by hand.”

Uh-oh!

I didn’t want to rain on his parade but knew drafting tables would soon go the way of dinosaurs and cassette tapes.  So, I mentioned again how CAD was the wave of the future.  I suggested that if he learned CAD, it would be a real opportunity. He could get in on the ground floor of something new.

“No,” he said confidently, “computers will never replace draftsmen.  There will always be a need for draftsmen. And, as I said, I don’t like computers.”

Well, as you probably already know, computers and CAD software did indeed replace drafting tables.  In the end, his career change did not turn out as he had hoped or expected.  I found out later he eventually went to work in a different field entirely. What a shame.  All that time, energy, and money spent on training were lost. I am sure the whole experience was a big disappointment to him personally.

Where Did He Go Wrong?

Obviously, he failed to fully scope out the new career field he was pursuing. I doubt he visited firms which hire drafters or asked about the employment prospects for newcomers. A little research would have quickly revealed the role of computers and CAD software in the future of drafting. Even the old term “draftsman” had evolved into the more technical “CAD Operator” or “Drafting Technician.” Plus, since he “didn’t like computers,” he could have learned this was obviously not a wise career move. At least not for him.

How Can You Look Into the Future?

How does someone who is not currently working in a particular field learn about its expected future prospects? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Contact a few companies and ask if you can visit the department of interest. Talk to people already working in the field.
  • Consider “job shadowing,” either with your current employer or another firm. (See the Career Lantern article Job Shadowing Saves Time, Money, and Regret.)
  • If you personally know someone working in the field of interest, talk with them. Since they know you, they may give you the “real scoop” on the field (at least as they see it).
  • Trade organizations/associations, unions, and credentialing bodies for the field may have information on their websites.
  • Colleges or high schools may have data and other resources available about future prospects for various fields.
  • Check out the career of interest in the online Occupational Outlook Handbook at the U.S. Department of Labor at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/home.htm/es/ooh/home.htm.

A Great Resource

The Occupational Outlook Handbook at the U.S. Department of Labor is a great resource and treasure trove of data.  Search for your career of interest and the results will provide you with valuable information such as:

  • Median Pay Rate
  • Typical Entry-Level Education Required
  • Work Experience Required
  • Additional On-the-job Training Needed
  • Number of Jobs
  • Job Outlook
  • Upcoming Employment Change Expected

A Closer Look

Back when my friend decided to pursue drafting, I’m sure he didn’t know about the Occupational Outlook Handbook. In the days before the internet, this document was probably something available primarily at the local public library. However, had he used it, he would have learned about the major changes which were taking place at that time in the field of drafting.

Fast forward to now. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is readily available online. As an example of what information one might find for a specific career, let’s stick with the field of drafting. Suppose someone is looking to enter the field of drafting today and consults this online resource. What types of things would he or she learn? A quick search of “drafting” on this website will land us on the following page.

A screenshot of the "Summary" page from the Occupational Outlook Handbook on U.S. Department of Labor website.

The Summary page contains a great deal of information.  First, notice the title of the job has been updated to the gender-neutral “Drafter.” What about the pay for this field? A change in careers is usually made, at least in part, to seek higher wages. The Median Pay data is useful in comparing one’s current compensation to that of the new field. However, remember this number is statistically calculated. Therefore, actual pay will vary considerably by individual company and geographic location.

Note an Associate’s degree is the typically expected entry-level education requirement. The How to Become One page provides useful information regarding preparing for a career in this field.

A screenshot of the "How to Become One" page from the Occupational Outlook Handbook on U.S. Department of Labor website.

The Future Outlook

Check out the Job Outlook page. The 10-year employment outlook for drafters indicates a 7% increase from 2016 to 2026. The number of drafting jobs is expected to grow by 14,600 workers over this time period. Note the report goes on to state this increase is “about as fast as the average for all occupations.”  This suggests drafting is not a high-growth field. According to the information, the expected modest growth is due to a projected increase in construction. Obviously, any unforeseen downturn in the economy could adversely impact this expected increase. If that happens, the result might be fewer job openings in drafting.

But, doesn’t the skill itself required for drafting help provide some assurance of long-term job growth, stability, or security? No, not necessarily. The Job Outlook page reveals something very interesting (I added the highlighting).

A screenshot of the "Job Outlook" page from the Occupational Outlook Handbook on U.S. Department of Labor website.

In the days before CAD, engineers and architects relied on drafters to create all the drawings and blueprints. Manual drafting required a degree of artistic skill, a valuable talent certainly not possessed by everyone. However, according to the information, CAD technology enables engineers and architects to now do much of the work themselves. Just click a mouse. Thus, when caught in a financial pinch, companies could probably get by with fewer drafters.

Here’s the point. When looking at the future of a career, consider how it is changing and the technology involved. Will these factors help ensure someone with your skill set will always be needed, or, does it enable others to easily replace you?

What’s the Future for Your Career Look Like?

Unlike my friend, you have easy access to career data and projections. You can get a glimpse of the expected future for your chosen career field. Yes, it may be only an estimate, but the information can also help ensure you ask all the right questions. What does the future look like for this field? How are changes in technology apt to impact it? 

Final Thoughts

Above all, the field you choose needs to be the right fit for you. But, before choosing or changing careers, carefully do your homework using ALL available resources.  Talk to people in the field. While helpful, do not rely solely on statistically-derived data which can vary greatly and is subject to change. A field which looks promising one year may appear bleak the next. No information or data are perfect, so there will never be any guarantees. However, by utilizing multiple resources you will be basing your decision on the best information available at the time. After all, that is the most anyone can do.

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts?
Click “Leave a Comment” at the top right of this post (or at the bottom on some mobile apps).

Featured image courtesy of Tumisu-Pixabay

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