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Jobs in science, health care and computers will experience labor shortages

ANN ARBOR—Americans will have an easier time finding jobs in science, health care and computers than in other fields in the next 10 years, says a University of Michigan researcher.

"Despite possible cutbacks in science research, many opportunities will exist in businesses for people with scientific backgrounds," says Malcolm S. Cohen, former director of the U-M's Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations and currently a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Business .

"As America approaches the 21st century, great opportunities will be created for entrepreneurial individuals with technical backgrounds as job growth in small to mid-size firms accelerates. "

In his new book, " Labor Shortages: As America Approaches the Twenty-First Century," to be released by the University of Michigan Press next month, Cohen predicts the likelihood of labor shortages and surpluses in 193 occupational groups, covering 12,741 different jobs.

Based on research originally sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Cohen developed an index of occupational demand and supply by using such factors as employment growth, wage increases, unemployment, skills, retirements, and the number of immigrants admitted to alleviate shortage occupations.

Occupations most likely to experience labor shortages are physical and medical scientists, veterinarians, physical therapists, physicians, registered nurses, speech therapists, chemists, biological and life scientists, computer programmers, computer systems analysts and scientists, operations researchers, geologists, radiological technicians, and airline pilots.

"All the top occupations, except physical therapists, require an average of at least three years of college," Cohen says. " In fact, nearly all the top jobs require some college and are related to medicine, science or computers. "

Occupations most likely to have a surplus of workers include those that require little training or education, such as handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, laborers, material-moving equipment operators, metalworking and plastic machine operators, statistical clerks, and typists.

Cohen says that changes in technology and the decline of manufacturing in the United States account for the projected surplus in these areas.

" As factory jobs, which also rank very poorly, are automated or move ahead, the number of workers competing for unskilled jobs will increase relative to the number of jobs available," he says. " Also, some jobs, such as typists and statistical clerks, will be replaced by word processors and spread sheet analysts as computers continue to take over functions previously performed manually. "

Cohen notes that shortages and surpluses can exist at different levels within a single occupation. For example, biologists with doctoral degrees in biotech research may be in high demand, while those with bachelor's degrees specializing in taxonomy may have difficulty finding jobs.

He adds that differences in labor shortages and surpluses may exist geographically. Rural areas, for example, may have difficulty attracting physicians, while large cities may have an adequate supply of medical doctors.

On the whole, Cohen says that caution must be used in interpreting the results of his forecast.

"Indicators are just that," he says. " They give readers approximate rankings of occupations based on objective information. Job seekers can be unemployed in top-ranked occupations and can find employment in those jobs at the bottom of the list. "