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The best recession-proof jobs

Expert names the 10 strongest professions.

By Karen Datko Sep 29, 2009 1:33PM

This post comes from J.D. Roth at partner blog Get Rich Slowly.

In "The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets" (which I recently reviewed), author Peter Schiff provides a list of the best jobs to beat the economic collapse he predicts is just around the corner. "I foresee the following as the 10 strongest professions and industries over the coming decade and beyond," he writes.

His list:

  • Engineering, because the abandoned U.S. industrial base will need to be retooled.

  • Construction, to rebuild the American infrastructure.

  • Agriculture, as we wean ourselves from imported foodstuffs.

  • Merchant marine, to transport goods to foreign markets.

  • Commercial fishing, because demand for fish is increasing in the U.S. even as foreign supply is declining.

  • Energy, because we'll need to develop alternatives to fossil fuels.

  • Computers and high technology, one field in which the U.S. continues to lead.

  • Entertainment, another industry in which the U.S. should continue to dominate the world market.

  • Automotive repair, small-appliance repair, and the like. It's going to become more costly to replace items, making repair a viable option.

  • Tailoring and textiles, because imported clothes will become scarcer and more expensive.

This list is predicated on Schiff's belief that the U.S. economy is in massive collapse. He also lists job sectors he believes will decline sharply: the service economy, banking and finance, real estate, health care, travel and tourism, and retailing. If you have a job in one of those industries, Schiff recommends planning for a career change.

Schiff's advice made me curious. What do other experts think are the safest jobs for riding out this recession? I did some digging to find out. 

A second opinion

There's actually a new book out on this subject called "150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs" by Laurence Shatkin, a career information consultant. His top 10 recession-proof jobs are:

  • Computer systems analyst.

  • Network systems and data communications analyst.

  • Network and computer systems administrator.

  • Registered nurse.

  • Teacher, postsecondary (i.e., college professors).

  • Physical therapist.

  • Physician and surgeon.

  • Dental hygienist.

  • Pharmacist.

  • Medical and health services manager.

The Associated Press recently profiled Shatkin and his book, in which he explains that he derived his list from government statistics. Contrast this with Schiff's list, which is based not on past data, but on his prediction of the future. It seems to me that these men are coming at the problem from different angles, and their lists reflect that. They're nearly opposites.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas

Other experts have their own ideas about which jobs are best in a recession. Representatives from the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas made the rounds earlier this year with their list of recession-proof jobs, which included the following rising professions:

  • Education

  • Energy

  • Health care

  • International business

  • Environment

  • Security and law enforcement

They also note a few jobs in which the prospects are declining:

  • Anything related to housing (including real estate, investment banking, engineering and architecture).

  • State and local government.

  • Industries dependent on discretionary spending (e.g., restaurants and retail).

The advice from Challenger, Gray & Christmas is slightly different from that in either of the first two lists. The only real agreement among these three different sources is that industries related to housing and to discretionary spending are in for hard times.

The Jobfox list

Finally, Jobfox, a job-matching Web site, has been sharing its list of the top 20 in-demand jobs based on statistics from the past year. Forbes published a version of the list, as did BusinessWeek, which created a slide show including median salaries for these careers:

  • Sales representative/business development ($65,000-$75,000).

  • Software design/development ($85,000-$95,000).

  • Nursing ($35,000-$45,000).

  • Accounting and finance executive ($65,000-$75,000).

  • Accounting staff ($45,000-$55,000).

  • Networking/systems administration ($65,000-$75,000).

  • Administrative assistant ($35,000-$45,000).

  • Business analysis (software implementation) ($85,000-$95,000).

  • Business analysis (research) ($65,000-$75,000).

  • Finance staff ($65,000-$75,000).

  • Project management ($85,000-$95,000).

  • Testing/quality assurance ($65,000-$75,000).

  • Product management ($85,000-$95,000).

  • Database administration ($75,000-$85,000).

  • Account/customer support ($35,000-$45,000).

  • Technology executive ($115,000-$125,000).

  • Electrical engineering ($65,000-$75,000).

  • Sales executive ($85,000-$95,000).

  • Mechanical engineering ($65,000-$75,000).

  • Government contracts administration ($55,000-$65,000).

This list points to three broad paths for those wishing to avoid the effects of the recession: management, computer science and accounting. But again, this list is very different from the others.

Four experts, four opinions

What conclusion do you draw from looking at these lists? The top lesson I get is that nobody can agree on which jobs are best for riding out a recession. As we've seen time and again when people try to predict the future, everybody has a different methodology, and everybody comes to a different conclusion. Nobody will be 100% correct.

I believe that, in general, the most recession-proof job is the one you already have. If your current career is fulfilling and pays well, then do what you can to make yourself indispensable. Develop your skill set. Be a valuable contributor. Keep a positive attitude. Network your way to job security. These things won't help if your company undergoes massive layoffs, but they will protect you from casual culling.

Other articles of interest at Get Rich Slowly:

Living with and learning from layoffs

How to make yourself recession-proof

What to do if you're laid off?

Published Nov. 24, 2008



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