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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

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