So why should we pay attention?
It's true that from 2010 to 2011, occupational data may look pretty much the the same, but over time, these incremental differences between years really start to add up. Small yearly changes can bring big changes over the course of a decade. And several decades will bring dramatic changes to our entire occupational system as technological and economic forces fundamentally change the nature of work in America.
Comparing occupationsIt's not easy to compare the distribution of occupations over long periods of time. Our employment landscape has changed so much that the occupations studied by the Census Bureau in 1920s, and the occupational groups that resulted, don't match the groups of today. For example, in the 1920 census, "bankers, brokers and money lenders" were considered to be in "trade" and grouped together with occupations such as "retail dealers," "salesmen" and "store clerks" that today are grouped into the broad category "sales." As a result, the graph below only approximates the changes that have taken place.
The graphic below depicts how the occupational landscape has changed since 1920. Students entering the workforce today face a dramatically different landscape of jobs than that of their parents in the 1980s or their grandparents in the 1950s. And the work world that their great-grandparents entered in the 1920s is almost unrecognizable.
- Back then, about 25 percent of jobs were in agriculture and 40 percent were in manufacturing. Today, fewer than one percent of jobs are agricultural and only about 20 percent are in manufacturing.
- In the 1920s, only about 5 percent of workers held professional jobs. This has exploded over the last 90 years; today about 35 percent of workers have professional jobs. Rapidly advancing technology has not only automated the jobs that once provided clerical, manufacturing and agricultural employment for millions of Americans, but it has also generated demand for millions of workers who create, manage, and explain this technology.
Engineering: Then and Now
In the 1920 Census, data was collected on four kinds of "technical engineers:" civil, electrical, mechanical, and mining. In 2010, the BLS reports employment numbers for 17 kinds of engineers: aerospace, agriculture, biomedical, chemical, civil, computer hardware, electrical, electronics, environmental, industrial, health and safety, marine, materials, mechanical, mining, nuclear, and petroleum.
Health Sciences: Then and Now
The 1920 census reported employment in just 10 health sciences occupations: dentists, osteopaths, physicians and surgeons, trained nurses, chiropractors, healers, dental assistants, physician assistants, midwifes and untrained assistants. Today, over 50 health science occupations are recorded by the BLS, many of them including many more sub-specialties of their own. Many of these occupations had not even been contemplated in 1920, including speech-language pathologists, nuclear medicine technologists, and prosthodontists.
Every occupational arena has a range of occupations unimagined in the 1920s, from CNC machinists to telemarketers to multimedia artists. And every arena has seen jobs disappear. The 1920 census reported 28,000 newsboys; 15,000 bootblacks; 113,000 messenger, errand, and office boys and girls; 221,000 blacksmiths; 19,000 coopers; 73,000 milliners; 79,000 shoemakers; and 19,000 hostlers and stable hands.
Career and Technical Education programs are constantly changing
Career and Technical educators strive to prepare students for the jobs of today and the jobs of the future, not the jobs of the past. To do this, it's important to continuously reevaluate courses and programs to make sure they are up to date and in demand. Occupational estimates and projections produced by the BLS help CTE professionals to do this.
Over the last few decades, CTE has dramatically expanded the number of programs preparing students for the growing professional and managerial sector, for jobs in engineering, health science, information technology, education, and business. We have increased the focus on high tech manufacturing. And we have shifted the focus of many programs in Agriculture from hands-on farming to agricultural science and technology, a transformation that's essential to keep up with the growth of high tech agriculture and the consequent productivity boom. By continuing to monitor and reevaluate our programs, we will continue to prepare students for the future and not for the past.