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Jobs of the future slow with economic cooling

Reproduced from a Cognizant chart; Chart: Axios Visuals

Job growth was flat for the third straight quarter in what have seemed to be some of the economy's least automatable occupations, such as AI, cybersecurity and environmental work.

Why it matters: The trend suggests these occupations, too, are susceptible to economic cooling.

What's happening: In its latest index — provided first to Axios and covering the year-to-year period through the first quarter of 2019 — Cognizant reports a 32% rise in openings for what it calls "jobs of the future."

  • But the surge occurred almost entirely in the first couple of quarters. Since then, many of the jobs have flatlined, with some diminishing, such as solar installer and "transportation supervisor."
  • The cooling could be more evidence of what many economists see as an unfolding U.S. economic slowdown.
  • Such jobs may be under the same pressure that have already beset other, besieged professions. "I’m not so sure that HR jobs and some software engineering are not subject to automation," Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM, tells Axios.

The big picture: Among today's biggest questions are how industrialized economies will navigate the new age of automation. Can they create sufficient new jobs fast enough to absorb all those thrown out of work? And will new occupations pay enough for a middle class standard of living?

  • Cognizant says its index, launched last year, is among a few that begin to attempt to identify and then track what these new occupations may be.
  • Among the 50 occupations it tracks are categories called "work culture" — which most of us know as human resources — and "fitness and wellness," like fitness counselors and behavioral therapists.
  • For the second consecutive quarter, the number of work culture jobs rose by a sizzling 69%, according to the report. Postings for career counselor alone rose sevenfold.

"HR has been the poster child of the sclerotic back office," said Robert Brown, associate vice president at Cognizant's Center for the Future of Work. "There has to be a renaissance, and companies have gotten the memo. They know these jobs are going to have to change."

Details for the last 12 months:

  • Fitness and wellness jobs soared by 54%, with "health information manager" and personal care aide more than doubling.
  • In absolute numbers of jobs, AI and automation grew the most, with 327,000 new postings versus 252,000 last year. "This sharp growth in [AI and automation] jobs reflects the growing war for technical talent as companies rush to accelerate their digital transformation programs," the report said.
  • The U.S. trade war with China, plus the change in U.S. environmental policies under President Trump, are partly responsible for a 21% plunge in job listings for solar installers and a 10% fall for solar engineers, the report said.

However, the first quarter of the year illustrated the recent growth slowdown:

  • Fitness and wellness still had a sharp 25% growth in jobs. But overall, the index grew by just 2% in the first quarter.
  • Transportation jobs, for instance, grew by 26% over the year as a whole, but plunged by 6% in the first quarter of 2019.
  • The hot area of automation and AI grew by just 2%, and work culture by a still-respectable 10%.