The Jobs of Tomorrow

By Barbara Miner

In his keynote speech to the National Education Summit, IBM chairman and CEO, Louis Gerstner Jr., made several statements that were essential to his analysis. These statements, in turn, were widely reported in the media. One of the bedrocks of Gerstner’s analysis is that the jobs of tomorrow will be in high-skill, high-wage occupations. “Jobs that today require low-to-moderate skills – and pay low-to-moderate wages – are in decline, while demand soars for highly skilled applicants who command higher pay,” Gerstner said.

Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “Employment Projections 1996-2006” show a different story. In fact, jobs merely requiring short or moderate on-the-job training, such as clerical and service jobs, will account for more than half of all jobs in 2006.

“Employers will hire more than three times as many cashiers as engineers,” columnist Richard Rothstein noted in an article in the Oct. 27 New York Times. “They will need more than twice as many food-counter workers, waiters, and waitresses than all the systems analysts, computer engineers, mathematicians, and database administrators combined. We will be hiring more nurses, but even more janitors and maids.”

One of the sources of confusion is that while professions such as computer engineering will increase percentage-wise, the number is relatively small to begin with. So, as Rothstein notes, one can proclaim that computer engineering and science employment “will increase by a whopping 100% while foodservice grows by only 11%. But computer science is a relatively small field, so new positions generate rapid growth rates. There are more waitresses today, so smaller percentage growth yields more new jobs.”

It’s also important to realize that high-skilled jobs are subject to a fluctuating supply and demand that has more to do with corporate profits than education – as Gerstner well realizes.

Gerstner came to IBM in 1993 (his previous corporate post was head of RJR Nabisco, where he helped oversee the Joe Camel campaign which made Camels the most prominent cigarette among children.) In line with the corporate downsizing then sweeping the nation, he fired 90,000 highly trained employees, about one-third of IBM’s workforce. “That was in addition to the other 183,000 quality employees that IBM fired before Gerstner arrived,” notes Clinton Boutwell in his book Shell Game: Corporate America’s Agenda for Schools (Phi Delta Kappa, 1997).