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The U.S. job market is brushing up against its best performance in a half-century, but certain occupations are in greater demand than most — those involving new or particularly human-led skills that seem least subject to automation.

Expand chart
Reproduced from a Cognizant chart; Chart: Axios Visuals

In its latest quarterly index, provided first to Axios, Cognizant reports that “jobs of the future” — occupations like cyber calamity forecaster, career counselor and solar engineer — jumped 68% in 2018, vastly outperforming the market as a whole.

  • By comparison, the 2.6 million jobs created last year by the sizzling economy overall were only a 1.5% addition to the U.S. labor force.

Why it matters: The juxtaposition is not entirely fair, as the index involves only a fraction of the 163 million-strong U.S. labor force. Yet the result suggests that a broad sampling of future-pointing skills — and not just jobs like software engineering — is enjoying takeoff after struggling unevenly until now.

The big question: The index is made up of 50 jobs that have both a traditional and a digital component. It attempts to nibble at one of the most consequential questions of our age: What will happen with jobs in the new age of automation and artificial intelligence?

  • Future-of-work forecasts usually veer between wild extremes: On one side are predictions of a jobs wipeout, with humans left in low-paying work, if they can find work at all; on the other are more benign outlooks foreseeing the creation of sufficient jobs for everyone.
  • At minimum, the index suggests that we are on our way to finding out.

How it has worked thus far: All 50 jobs are indexed to the third quarter of 2016 (starting at 1.0). The index was negative before 2018: By the fourth quarter of 2017, “master of edge computing” was down to 0.82, “transportation supervisor” had fallen to 0.50 and “fashion designer” to 0.71.

  • But a year later, they were at 1.37, 1.21 and 2.68, respectively (fashion designer was the fastest-growing job of 2018, jumping 279%).
  • “Our view is that the unleashing of ‘animal spirits’ — post Trump tax cuts — caused a surge in hiring across the board, e.g., jobs of the future and all jobs writ large,” said Benjamin Pring, head of Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work unit, who conceived the index.

Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, the freelance jobs site, said it’s no surprise that digital jobs are growing so fast. Upwork produces its own index, which tracks skills commanding the fastest-growing demand. He said particular skills are suddenly in great demand — for example, how to handle new software — but that the jobs dry up relatively quickly.

  • "Which is why some economists say that the half life of a skill is now five years and trending down (meaning, for such skills, knowing them in five years will only be half as valuable as knowing them today)," Kasriel said in an email exchange.
  • Examples of the skills in demand include engineers who could work with genetic algorithms, along with Kubernetes, a software platform, and Oculus Rift, a virtual reality system.

Go deeper: Automation is redefining the types of skills employers want

Go deeper

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations were "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 7 hours ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand, which were later lifted.

7 hours ago - World

North Korea launches 4th suspected missile test this month

A news broadcast in Seoul, South Korea, of an apparent North Korean missile test on Monday morning local time. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired "two suspected short-range ballistic missiles" eastward from Pyongyang on Monday morning local time, per South Korean and Japanese officials.

Why it matters: The fourth such launch since Jan. 5 comes days after North Korea's military warned of "stronger" action if the U.S. moved to have more sanctions imposed on the country.