Where the Recession-Proof Jobs Are

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Career expert Laurence Shatkin just wrote a book called 150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs. It is well timed. Barbara Kiviat spoke with him.

Barbara Kiviat: How can you tell that a job is going to be recession-proof?

Laurence Shatkin: Well, I'm not a fortune teller, and nobody's job is 100% secure, but I identified these based on information from the U.S. Department of Labor. I developed a pool of 180 occupations that are resistant to economic downturn and then sorted them according to their economic rewards — income, job openings and job growth. These are the best of the recession-proof jobs.

What are the places to be?

Health-care occupations are a great growth industry, and they tend to be more secure because a lot of health coverage comes from insurance policies. Governments are being impacted by this recession because it's so severe, but on the whole, government-related jobs tend to be more secure, particularly jobs that have to do with law enforcement and education. People have to send their kids to school no matter what the economic conditions are. Post-secondary education tends to be a pretty secure place to be too. People will ride out recession by going back to school. And there are certain utilities, like water, electricity, gas, garbage pickup, sewage treatment. These things will be needed no matter what the economy is.

If I want a recession-proof job that pays well, where should I look?

Health care. Granted, you'll have to get a certain kind of education, but the pay is good. And overall the demand is there.

Say I'm scared of the sight of blood. What's my next stop?

Air-traffic controllers is one option. There's a great demand for those right now. You may remember Ronald Reagan broke up the air-traffic controllers' union, and they hired a whole bunch of people at that time. Well, that cohort of workers is getting ready to retire. Actuaries is another I might mention. Those are the people who work for insurance companies and figure out how much they should charge you. They figure out the odds that people are going to die, get in an accident, need health care. They have to be good with numbers.

So if someone goes out and gets one of these recession-proof positions, does that mean real job security?

Comparative job security. Even college professors who have tenure don't have total job security. They can always get rid of the department.

In your ranking, you look at workforce growth. But does that take into account competition for those jobs?

That's a very good point to make. There is a lot of competition for some of these jobs. For example, veterinarians. There's competition to get into veterinary school. But registered nurses, they can't get enough of. There's a huge demand, but the supply of people who want to do it isn't there.

People always talk about health care as a recession-proof industry, and you generally agree, but you also point out that that's truer for certain jobs than others.

I'll give you an example. Dentists see more of an impact from a recession, because people put off getting dental care. Even people who have their semiannual cleaning paid for by insurance sometimes skip it because they're afraid that when they get there, they're going to be told they need other work. They want to avoid that expense.

What about people who do things with computers? That also has a reputation for being recession-proof, but then there's the issue of outsourcing.

It's really a question about how collaborative the work is. For example, systems analysts, which are way up there at the top of the list, work with the people who produce the information and with the people who are going to consume it. There's a lot involved besides just writing code. Because you have to work in this collaborative fashion, you probably need to be on-site or to be someone who can communicate very easily with the people on-site, being in the same time zone, being a native speaker of the language. It's much harder to ship that sort of job overseas than ones for computer programmers.

Since older workers seem more likely to get laid off, could you talk about the list you have for recession-proof jobs with the highest percentage of workers 55 and over?

This is aimed mostly for people doing long-term planning, and if you're in your 40s or 50s, you're not going to consider a career as a physician. However, there are certain occupations in here that require much less education and training, and you could make a move into those. For example, police dispatchers need only moderate-term on-the-job training.

What about people who want to work for themselves?

Massage therapists have the highest percentage of workers who are self-employed, but the best recession-proof job overall for the self-employed is network-systems and data-communications analysts. A lot of clinical psychologists and counselors are self-employed; they have their own practices.

You have one job listed as recession-proof for people who want to be in retail sales or services: funeral director. Why just the one?

Look at the front page of the New York Times today, saying how all of a sudden consumers are not consuming. Retail is getting hit very hard. But I'm going to a funeral tomorrow. Death goes on.

On the list of cities with the highest percentage of recession-proof jobs — like Albany, N.Y.; Duluth, Minn.; Olympia, Wash.; Johnstown, Pa.; Topeka, Kans.; Monroe, La. — there aren't any large cities. Why is that?

A lot of the industries in big cities are those that are sensitive to the economy, like finance, retail, manufacturing. Plus, a lot of the cities on that list are state capitals. State-government workers tend to be a little bit more secure than the rest of us. And a lot of state universities are located in capitals.

So if I don't want to change jobs and don't want to lose the one I have, what should I do?

Make yourself indispensable. Figure out your company's central mission and be part of it. When companies retrench, they say, "What do customers come to us for? What are we good at? Maybe we shouldn't be experimenting around in these other fields." And be visible.

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