Job outlook is a forecast of the change in the number of people employed in a particular occupation over a set period, for example, two years, five years or ten years. Economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a division of the United States Department of Labor, predict whether—and by how much—the rate of employment will increase or decrease between a base year and a target year. The BLS publishes this information for hundreds of occupations in the Occupational Outlook Handbook and updates it every two years.
The BLS compares an occupation's projected employment change, usually over a 10-year period, to the average projected change in employment for all occupations combined over the same period. They describe an occupation's projected job outlook by saying it will:
- grow much faster than average (an increase of 14% or more)
- grow faster than average (an increase of between 9% and 13%)
- grow about as fast as average (an increase of between 5% to 8%)
- grow more slowly than average (an increase of between 2% and 4%)
- have little or no change (a decrease or increase of 1% or less)
- decline (a decrease of at least 2%)
How to Use This Information When Planning Your Career
Job outlook is among the labor market information you must consider when you are deciding whether or not to choose a career. Before you invest money and time to prepare for an occupation you have determined is a good fit, you must see whether your ability to find a job once you have met all the requirements is decent.
Of course, there are no guarantees that you will find a job, regardless of an occupation's outlook, but you will want the odds to be in your favor.
If you are wondering whether to change careers, you should also investigate the outlook of your current occupation. One of the reasons to make a career change is a worsening job outlook.
If employment opportunities are few and it looks like they will get even worse, it may be time to prepare to work in a different field.
Limitations of Job Outlook Figures
While it is important to find out whether an occupation has a positive outlook, this projection alone does not give you all the information you need to know about your chances of finding a job in the future. You need to look at job prospects too. The economists who estimate employment growth also compare the number of job seekers with the number of job openings to determine job prospects. Although the BLS may project that an occupation will grow much faster than average over the next 10 years, the number of available jobs may be few. One reason may be that some fields don't employ many people. Even if economists expect high growth, it may not translate into a significant number of opportunities for those hoping to get into a field or industry.
You should also keep in mind that, despite economists' ability to make good predictions, job outlook and job prospects can change. Employment growth can slow down, and it can speed up. Many factors can influence it. For example, a glut or shortage of qualified candidates looking for work will affect your job prospects.
A downturn or upturn in an industry will change the outlook.
In addition to looking at the national job outlook data for the career you are investigating, you should also do research into the projections for that occupation in the state in which you want to work. You can use Projections Central to look at long- and short-term occupational projections by state.