Jobs and Careers That Aren’t Coming Back

Recently on OutOfYourRut I’ve been writing a series of posts centered on employment alternatives–self-employment, side businesses and soft employment (part-time, temporary or contract work). The purpose in discussing these alternatives is based on my belief that the weak employment environment we now find ourselves in may not be temporary, and longterm changes need to be implemented in order for us to survive in a job market that may look very different from what we’ve know for most of our lives.


( Photo by Phil Campbell )
Though connecting employment weakness to the recent recession is the standard line, doing so fails to give proper recognition to longer term trends which have had an even greater effect on the job market than we assume. Globalization, advances in technology and rising healthcare costs have marginalized much of the labor force in countries such as the United States. While technology has been eliminating jobs at home, wage arbitrage has been taking place globally, in a competition that high wage/high benefit labor bases, such as that of the U.S., are at a competative disadvantage versus low cost/unbenefited work forces in third world countries. We can protest that it’s unfair competition all we want, but it’s also the reality of our time.

Though the evidence is all around us, I stumbled upon a recent article that addresses the longer term job outlook more directly.

In 9 Careers on the Way Out (Yahoo Finance, January 29, 2010) Stephanie Powers provides a list of careers that are gradually disappearing and provides detailed reasons driving the eliminations, which I’ve summarized below.

  • Bank Tellers: ATM’s and online banking.
  • File Clerks: Computerization and environmental conservation are eliminating paper files.
  • Telephone Operators: In a word–voicemail! But email and texting are also exacting a toll.
  • Data Entry Clerks: “The ability to integrate systems and make various systems exchange date automatically also reduced the need to for a person to translate or manipulate data.”
  • Mail Clerks: Bar codes and email.
  • Photo Processors: Digital photography and self-service kiosks.
  • Travel Agents: We can book our own trips on the internet.
  • Watch Salesperson: Cell phones make great watches, and you can make and receive calls on them too.
  • Video Store Clerk: Online movie viewing and cable companies with user-selected movies.

That’s a pretty substantial list, but just off the top of my head, I can easily add a few more:

Tax Preparers: While there will always be a need for preparers for complex income tax returns, for most taxpayers a user friendly $30 tax software package is becoming increasingly preferable to paying a $300 fee for third party tax preparation.

Customer Service: Technology has enabled an increasing number of these jobs to be moved offshore to lower wage countries.

Manufacturing Jobs: This is a trend that began at least four decades ago, and shows no sign of reversing. Robotics, offshoring of factories, and NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) policies are the chief culprits here.

MORTGAGE WORKERS! Being a refugee from this industry has put me in a position to know. The industry has always been cyclical, but there’s something close to a concensus that it isn’t coming back to anything close to where it was a few years ago. Apart from the housing bust and mortgage meltdown, regulators and advocacy groups have long taken aim at “yield spread premium” or YSP, and viewed it as a form of illegitimate profit. And their efforts have succeeded in creating a patchwork quilt of state and federal predatory lending laws that are squeezing the profit out of the business. (YSP is back-end compensation paid to mortgage brokers and originators in exchange for slightly higher rates, but it’s also the reason why borrowers no longer need to pay points up front.) Take the profit out of any business, and the business will wither and die. The mortgage industry will survive in some stripped down form, but it will likely do so with far fewer sales people and independent brokers, both of whom have traditionally represented a large share of the industry’s employment base.

Admittedly, some of these jobs have traditionally been lower paying, and because of that some might argue that their disappearance won’t have a material affect on the rest of the job market. However, what these jobs do accomplish is providing employment at the lower end the job market, and cronic unemployment in that sector will reduce the market for goods and sevices accross the board, affecting even higher paying job classes. Meanwhile manufacturing and mortgage employment have been the foundation of middle class life in millions of households and are going the same way. Am I sounding a false alarm or is something bigger playing out than we like to think?

Can you think of any other career fields disappearing from the employment scene? Since individually we can’t solve the nations employment problems, what steps can we take to prepare ourselves to survive and hopefully prosper in the transition?

10 Responses to Jobs and Careers That Aren’t Coming Back

  1. I posted on the topic of careers and transition this week (2/1/2010). There are definitely new definitions being created daily of what steady employment looks like in our culture.

  2. Ken – “New definitions” is an excellent term. We can’t look at these transitions as being the end of the world as we know it, but rather as a wake up call to start creating a new direction in the world as it really is.

    For many of us, finding a new job or career may require building one from the ground up, meaning developing a livelihood that looks very unlike what we may be used to.

  3. I’m hopeful that Customer Service will come back some day. The off-shoring of CS has done little more than reduce some up-front costs. In the long run I think is has done more damage to the customer relationship.

    File Clerks is an unfortunate loss. If you have ever looked on a share drive of a corporate computer, they are a mess! Huge amounts of duplication and little if any organization. A true productivity killer!

  4. Lean Life Coach – I completely agree with you on customer service. That’s the front line of business, where customer and vendor meet; it’s close to absurd that any business would want to let go of that crucial connection to please it’s customers and win their business for life.

    What ever the financial benefit, I think it’s a strategic error.

  5. I wouldn’t write off tax preparers yet. Maybe I’m only saying that because I do it part-time, but you’d be amazed at how many people just don’t want to do it themselves or feel that they can’t because they don’t understand it. I agree, using something like TurboTax, TaxACT, or H&R Blocks software make it pretty easy to do it yourself. But you (Kevin) and I already have a leaning toward personal finances and DIY. Most people don’t.

  6. Paul, like you, I prepare taxes seasonally as well. I’ve been doing it for a lot of years, and it is changing. You don’t get so many of the ordinary folks any more, it’s mostly the more complex cases.

    You’re right, there will always be tax work out there, it just may not be as close to the ground as it once was.

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  8. I also read this article when it was on yahoo. I saw it coming from a mile away. Jack in the box already has machines to order from!

    Thanks,

    Nestor

  9. Since the dawn of the industrial age, jobs that can be effectively automated have tended to disappear. The need of many human beings for personal significance, though, relies on favorable interactions with other human beings. Jobs like hospitality and service roles are based on people’s need to be personally served. These jobs are probably a lot safer as they are less likely to be automated (automation would remove one of their main attractions – personal significance).

    An interesting mid-point, though are jobs like automotive sales where many people still want personal service and accountability. Internet sales have made slow and tentative advances (with some spectacular failures) but many people still prefer the personal service when they are buying something that they consider financially significant( car, real estate, wedding dress, etc.)

  10. Video Store Clerk, Photo Processors,Telephone Operators,File Clerks,Data Entry Clerks,Mail Clerks are as sure as gone but watch salesperson( craze of watch never dies) and other few jobs will still remain for quiet a while.

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