Future careers: which job areas will grow?

people in arrow formation, indicating jobs growth
It’s impossible to predict the jobs of the future, but our round-up of relevant trends and reports will help you on your way.

Which jobs will be in demand in 2030 or 2040? What will be the effects of automation on employment? We’ve rounded up some useful long-term employment trends and predictions to give you a rough guide to future jobs.

However, we’re keen not to take future-gazing too far – even the most careful analysis can’t provide a watertight guide to what the workplace will look like in ten or twenty years’ time. And if you’re planning on factoring future jobs predictions into career decision making, take extra care. Even if you hit the mark with regard to future demand, you’ll struggle to get hired or to progress your career in an area you’re not suited to or that doesn’t particularly motivate you.

It’s also worth being aware that most of the available data relates to broad industry sectors rather than specific jobs or levels of seniority. For example, there’s a long term trend of decline in the number of jobs in the manufacturing sector, but while that may mean fewer low-skilled factory jobs in future, demand for graduate engineers to work in manufacturing is healthy and may well remain so. Likewise, jobs in public administration and defence are showing a slight long-term decline, yet the 2019 Pulse Survey from the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) found that among graduate jobs offered by its members, public sector opportunities were the biggest growth area over the year since the last survey.

Long term trends in jobs growth and decline

One of the more straightforward approaches is to look at long-term changes in the number of people employed in different types of job from the past through to the present day, then make the assumption that these trends will continue into the future.

Looking at the big picture first, the January 2019 UK Labour Market report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) provided a comparison of broad occupation areas from June 1978 to September 2018 in the UK. It found that:

  • jobs in the manufacturing, mining and quarrying sectors accounted for 26.4% of employment in 1978 but only 7.9% in 2018
  • in contrast, jobs in the services sector accounted for 63.2% of employment in 1978 and 83.1% in 2018.

The definition of the services sector is very broad and includes a huge range of industries from transport, accommodation and food service to arts, science, education and health roles.

For a bit more detail about specific sectors, A Millennium of Macroeconomic Data from the Bank of England can help. For example, comparing 1978 with 2016:

  • there was a big increase in the percentage of the population working in professional scientific and technical services (including health and education) – this represented 17.17% of all jobs (including self-employment) in 1978 and 29.86% in 2016
  • there was a big decrease in those working in manufacturing jobs – from 24.85% in 1978 to 7.64% in 2016
  • there was a decrease in employment in public administration and defence – from 7.5% in 1978 to 4.28% in 2016
  • insurance, banking and finance did not see much change in employment levels (representing 2.99% of all jobs in 1978 and 3.16% in 2016)
  • likewise, the construction sector did not see a great deal of change (representing 7.01 of all jobs in 1978 and 6.46% in 2016).

Professional services firm PwC’s 2016 UK Economic Outlook report covers similar ground and gives further depth in some areas. For example, it looked at ONS workforce survey data from 1978 to 2014 and highlighted that:

  • jobs in education and health grew strongly, from under 4 million in 1978 to over 7 million in 2014
  • jobs in business services also grew strongly, from a little over 2 million in 1978 to over 6 million in 2014.

Predicting future jobs trends

Projecting this data forwards, the PwC UK Economic Outlook report predicted how much different job areas would grow by between 2015 and 2025. However, keep in mind that the survey was published in March 2016, before the EU referendum. It was based on GDP growth predictions at the time and acknowledged that there are many factors that could affect its predictions. These were:

  • business services: 2.3% growth
  • health and education: 1.5% growth
  • transport and communication: 1.2% growth
  • energy and water: 0.8% growth
  • construction: 0.6% growth
  • distribution, hotels and restaurants: 0.5% growth
  • financial services: 0.2% growth
  • agriculture, forestry and fishing: -0.9% growth
  • public administration, defence and security: -1.0% growth
  • manufacturing: -2.6% growth.

The effects of automation on employment

Another PwC report, Will Robots Really Steal Our Jobs?, looks at the potential impact of automation on jobs. It ranks the employment areas at risk of automation from highest to lowest as follows:

  1. transportation and storage (highest risk)
  2. manufacturing
  3. construction
  4. administrative and support service
  5. wholesale and retail trade
  6. public administration and defence
  7. financial and insurance
  8. information and communication
  9. professional, scientific and technical
  10. accommodation and food service
  11. human health and social work
  12. education (lowest risk).

The report comments: ‘Relatively low automatability sectors such as human health and social work, and education… have more focus on social skills, empathy and creativity, which are more difficult to directly replace by a machine even allowing for potential technological advances over the next 10-20 years.’

Considering the effects of automation of different groups, the report also predicts: ‘The starkest results are those by education level, with much lower potential automation rates on average for highly educated workers with graduate degrees or above, than for those with low to medium education levels.’

Next steps

  • If you’re keen to explore careers that tie in with predicted growth areas, such as education or health, take a look at our career sectors – there’s lots of information to help you explore the types of jobs and employers available and whether these careers would suit you, plus salary data and information on the possible entry routes.
  • Explore employability and how you can develop it. You might find this a rather more useful concept to help you future-proof your career prospects, rather than trying to predict demand in a particular area.
  • Read our other job market guide articles if you’d like more facts and figures about aspects of the labour market, such as job areas currently in demand or how educational level links to salary.

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