The General Structure of The World of Work

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Counseling requires the counselor to identify properly and respond appropriately to feelings, thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors expressed by the client, and to assist the client in developing desired and suitable behavior that reflects the increased understanding and insight resulting from counseling. When we focus on career counseling, the counselor is also required to be competent in assisting the client to acquire, process, and apply information and skills needed in effective career decision making and subsequent implementation of career plans. Specifically, "information" includes relevant data about the world of work and all its aspects.

The counselor who expects the client to suggest all the occupations he or she might want to consider is somewhat analogous to the physician who treats patients only on the basis of patient self-diagnosis, or the lawyer who specifies that clients are expected to develop their own legal defense. Such an approach drastically reduces the value of professional assistance, in some cases even removing the need for consulting the specialist. The career counselor who is to be most useful to the client not only must assist in the self-appraisal process but also must aid the client in understanding the world of work in sufficient detail that counselor and client can develop an expanded list of occupational alternatives. Later the counselor will help in acquiring and evaluating information about those opportunities in sufficient detail and relevance to the client so that the list can be narrowed ultimately to the best choice.

The counselor's competency in the career area is at least two-fold. First, the counselor must have a fairly thorough general understanding of the world of work, including the occupations of which it consists; how these differ from one another as well as how they are related; how they can be grouped in families or clusters; what they require of workers; what reward they offer; and so forth. Second, the counselor must know sources of information and appropriate techniques that can help the client develop significant list of suitable occupations and subsequently identify the best options in that array.

In this article, we will survey the general structure of the world of work, its anticipated changes, and some of the available types and sources of information.

The counselor who desires more depth than can be included in this article has several usable resources. The most prolific source of current, reliable data about the world of work is the United States Department of Labor. Several of its subordinate agencies are specifically charged with the tasks of collecting and disseminating facts about jobs, employment wages, hours, and other work-related material. Particularly helpful for counselors are such publications as Monthly Labor Review, Occupational Outlook Quarterly, Dictionary of Occupational Titles, and Guide for Occupational Exploration, and the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Discussion on the use of these and similar materials can be found in Fredrikson (1982) Hoppock (1976), Isaacson (1977), and Norris et al. (1979).

Structure of the World of Work

The world of work is a dynamic, constantly changing system. Some of the changes that influence occupational opportunity occur in the short run and their impact soon disappears. Other factors, however, exert pressure over a long period, producing an influence that lasts for decades. One example of this enduring type of change can be seen in population changes such as reduction in the birth rate. Such a factor not only influences the number of workers available in the future, but also modifies the demand for products and services in terms of both type and quantity. Population factors that deserve attention include changes in size, changes in the age structure, and geographic distribution within the country.

The population of the United States increased rapidly in the "baby boom" years following World War II. For example, between 1945 and 1960 the average annual increase was about 1.7 percent. During the 1960s this figure declined, and through the decade of the 1970s held fairly constant at about .8 percent. Bureau of the Census estimates anticipate little change in this figure during the 1980s, perhaps increasing only to .9 percent per annum.

The high birth rate of 1945-1960, followed by the much lower rate beginning in the 1960s, has a heavy impact on the present nature of the labor force. The most striking feature is the sharp decline in the number of individuals aged sixteen to twenty-four-the age group that includes most of the entrants into the labor force. Other factors, more difficult to quantify, can influence the available number of workers. While the number of individuals of a given age can be identified accurately long before they reach working age, it is harder to estimate the impact of such factors as fertility rates (changes in this factor not only influence future population size, but also affect women's participation in the labor force), changes in attitude toward women's involvement in work outside the home (if recent increases in participation by women ages twenty-five to twenty-nine were projected ahead, their participation in the work force would exceed that of similarly aged men before 1990), economic opportunity, still-existent remnants of discrimination based on race, sex or age, and such imponderables as inflation rates, desire for extended schooling, increased or decreased adequacy of retirement programs, and so on.

Three Scenarios

Because of uncertainties such as these, Bureau of Labor Statistics projections are often developed with three possible paths or scenarios. One of these is usually based on a conservative approach, assuming that the combination of factors will produce a low-growth factor. A second approach takes an optimistic outlook, suggesting that the interaction of factors will produce a high-growth pattern; the third, middle-of-the-road approach assumes a moderate or intermediate growth pattern. Another way to view these three paths is to view the first two as setting the minimum and maximum limits, with the third pattern suggesting the most likely figures if all other things are equal.

All three of the projected patterns use certain common assumptions. These include further rises in the labor force participation by teenagers, continued increase in participation by women, and further declines in participation by older workers. The intermediate growth pattern assumes that participation by men will decrease slightly, dropping from 76.6 percent in 1982 to 76.1 percent in 1995. Further, teenage men will increase their participation during that period from 56.7 percent to 62.9 percent. Women's involvement in the labor force is predicted to continue rapidly for a time, then slow gradually to a moderate rate of increase, showing 52.6 percent participation in 1982, 58.3 percent in 1990, and 60.3 percent by 1995. Participation of older workers would continue to decline in the labor force but at a slower pace than shown over the 1970-1982 period. The rate of working men over fifty-five is expected to drop from 43.8 percent in 1982 to 35.3 percent in 1995, and that of women over 55 to drop from 22.7 percent to 19.9 percent in that same period. Recent changes in mandatory retirement practices may change these figures somewhat. Finally, it is expected that overall participation by whites will grow faster than participation by blacks and others.

The high-growth pattern accords greater weight to a continuing rapid increase in participation in the labor force by women; a halt in the downward trend for men; a reversal in participation rates by black men that would lead to convergence with rates for white men; and no decrease in participation by workers age sixty-five or over. The low-growth pattern assumes that the decrease of participation of adult men will continue; fertility rates will rise, causing a slowdown of participation rates of women; participation of older workers will continue to decrease; and the participation rate of teenagers will slow.

Another way to view the world of work is to consider the various industrial sectors that collectively constitute it. Economists and others think of the world of work in terms of two broad categories: goods-producing and service-producing activities. These two areas in turn are divided into nine industrial sectors. Goods-producing sectors include agriculture, mining and petroleum, construction, and manufacturing. Service-producing sectors include government; wholesale and retail trade; services; transportation, communication, and public utilities; and finance, insurance, and real estate. The nine sectors are subdivided into industries where even finer subdivisions can be made. For example, the agricultural sector is thought to consist of dairy and poultry products, meat animals and livestock, cotton, food and feed grains, and other agricultural products. The trade sector is divided into two parts, wholesale and retail. Within each of these industries the myriad sets of tasks that are called occupations can be found. The largest fields-- manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and services--are expected to increase by four, six, and nine million workers respectively. Except for agriculture, which is expected to decline, the other industrial sectors are anticipated to show modest growth.

More rapid growth and decline can be seen in different occupational groups within the various industries. Comparisons can be made in two different ways, sometimes producing what appear to be contradictory data.
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