Which roles will stand out in new army of healthcare workers?

If we are too successful in our national quest to cut healthcare costs, we may find ourselves killing new job growth and tanking the economy.

There is always talk, sometimes tongue-in-cheek but mostly sort of serious, that a lot of jobs will be replaced by robots or computers. Maybe that new iPhone I just bought will replace me by year end. Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla thinks that the most doctors’ current functions will be replaced by algorithms; many believe that lots of white collar jobs, such as lawyers, accountants, and bankers will be replaced by machines with warmer personalities. Venture capitalists have already been “supplemented” with algorithms and, no doubt, there are plenty of people who would like to see us replaced by nearly anything metal—spatula, can opener–if they had their way. In Iron Man we see a world of robot-based soldiers going to war and in real life the echo of that is not so far off.

So if those jobs are going away and machines run the world of money and more, where are the opportunities for our kids and those now looking for their next career? Well, the good news is that there will still be a need for people in the future (whew!), and service jobs of all kinds will be high demand. While there is not yet a big call for valets to care for our robot overlords, it does appear that demand for medical workers will continue to drive job growth for a long while to come and thus the healthcare system will be largely free from total robot takeover.

Of the nearly 3 million new jobs added in 2014, about 10% of them came from the healthcare sector. That’s a pretty big number and actually is a bit worrisome when one thinks about how closely our economic health as a nation is tied to growing healthcare labor costs. If we are too successful in our national quest to cut healthcare costs, we may find ourselves killing new job growth and tanking the economy. Irony is a bitch.

In any event, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly projects where it thinks jobs will grow in the future. The last time they did this in a significant way, their list of the top 10 occupations with the most job growth (total number of new jobs) expected between 2012 and 2022 was as follows:

  • Personal care aides;
  • Registered nurses;
  • Retail salespersons;
  • Home health aides;
  • Food preparation and service;
  • Nursing assistants;
  • Secretaries and administrative assistants;
  • Customer service representatives;
  • Janitors and cleaners, except maids;
  • Construction laborers

Interestingly, when Fast Company asked a bunch of futurists about their view of the top 10 fastest growing jobs over the next decade, the answer was somewhat different. While still heavily tilted to healthcare and aging, take a look at their prediction of the top 10 growth job categories between now and 2025:

  • Personal worker brand coaches and managers;
  • Professional tribers (basically people who create groups of freelancers for projects, aka agents);
  • Freelance professors;
  • Urban farmers;
  • End of life planners;
  • Senior carers (aka caregivers);
  • Remote healthcare specialists;
  • Neuro-implant technicians;
  • Smart home handypersons;
  • Virtual reality experience designers;
  • Sex worker coaches;
  • 3D printer design specialists

Now that is a far more avante garde list in some ways. And I don’t mean because they use weird Fast Company-ish words like “tribers” and “carers” which are probably both destined for a future version of my healthcare bingo board.

Clearly both the government and Fast Company lists recognize the importance of raising a new army of healthcare workers, but the only real overlap in type here is the “senior carer” category, which pretty much maps to the personal care and home health aides plus nurses. What’s interesting about the rest of the futurists’ list, however, is how loudly it underscores the role technology is playing in changing the dynamics of health care delivery and the emerging aging in place and senior markets.

For one thing, there is a specific recognition that aging in place is a thing with the Internet of Things clearly denoted. Smart home handypersons are tailor-made for this type of community, where sensors and smart appliances are going to make it far easier to live at home in a positive way for much longer than in current circumstances. The nerdly guys who comprise the Geek Squad are clearly going to proliferate like bunnies in the new world order.

Particularly interesting to me is the inclusion of end of life planners in the Fast Company list. It’s good to see recognition that this is a need that is sorely unmet. Today we barely talk about this issue unless we are Atul Gawande or threating our political competitors with death-by death panel. I was, as previously reported, very happy to see what was a first for me—public discussion of the end of life debate at a healthcare conference—at the recent Health Evolution Summit (story about that HERE). It’s essential that we start to see life as a continuum that has a beginning and, unfortunately, an end. In 2025, the year the Fast Company article focuses upon with respect to new jobs, the first of the baby boomers will be 79. And thus, while Boomers may have 20+ more years of life ahead in 2025, it never hurts to be ready for what is inevitable.

Remote healthcare specialists is an interesting job category. Clearly its inclusion is a recognition of the growing role of telehealth in all its many forms and, if an accurate prediction, a punctuation mark at the end of the sentence that has artificially held back the proliferation of this field for years. Remote medical care is now stymied by a weird tangle of limiting regulations and related lack of reimbursement, but that tangle is well on its way to unraveling, thus vastly improving the efficiency of healthcare delivery.

Neuro-implant technicians is a pretty weird job category that really sounds to me like it’s from the future. It calls to mind all of those mind control movies where someone is inevitably wearing a scuba-like evil genius suit and stroking a cat. But the truth is, current science is driving us to a much better understanding of the mind and how to use technology to improve its function. Yes, there are big risks here but also great promise, particularly if we think broadly about Alzheimer’s, dementia and other disastrous brain-related conditions that could kill our economy, much less our population. Maybe someday we will be at Starbucks ordering a double latte, half caff with almond milk by just thinking it really hard and managing our pain at the same time.

As for the sex worker job opportunity, well, I’m not even going to go there. If you could see my email in-box you would be amazed at the inflow of business plans about sex toys disguised as digital health offerings. Or maybe they are digital health offerings disguised as sex toys. Either way, I hate to imagine this as the big job growth category of the future after having seen the Baby Boomers at play at the “European Pool” at a typical Las Vegas casino. You just can’t unsee some things, especially when they are wrapped in lycra.

But sexual health is an important part of a healthy life and thus I suppose anything is possible in a world where healthcare jobs reign supreme.   One can only hope that this job category is not sitting in the middle of the same Venn diagram with those new jobs in 3D printing and virtual reality experience designing. Yikes.

With a daughter in college thinking about her future career, it is so thought-provoking to see how technology will change the careers of the future, as it has changed the careers of the past (not a lot of call for horse and buggy drivers these days and Google is dispensing with drivers altogether). When I took psychology classes in college, I stared at mice in mazes and made little notes with a pencil. My daughter’s recent foray into psych education involved thinking about how social media and Natural Language Processing could enhance outcome. The times they are a’changing.

I’m done writing for the day so off for some coffee; perhaps I’ll head to Starbucks and see if they can hear me thinking my order really loudly.

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