Making a list of top jobs can be tricky. How do you select the best jobs out of thousands of job titles? It might be popular to select new or emerging jobs, jobs that sound the most cutting-edge. But this year—especially this year—it seems more valuable to talk about the most important jobs for our economy and society in 2021.
Why? Because if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we have lots of problems. And since all work is essentially problem-solving, we wanted to create a list of the biggest jobs tackling the biggest problems that need solving this year.
This means the heavy-lifting MVP jobs—jobs that already employ significant numbers of workers and are feeling a major talent crunch. The truth is, even with millions unemployed and certain industries gutted of workers, key industries still can’t find enough people to fill empty positions. The jobs in this post are just some of these hard-to-fill positions that desperately need more workers. Employers are posting thousands of ads for these jobs—even during 2020 when, overall, job postings fell 32% from 2019.
These jobs, in a nutshell, are where the US economy is calling for help, where companies are feeling the pinch, and where the 18 million out-of-work Americans might want to look for new opportunities.
To identify the most economically vital jobs for 2021, we analyzed jobs that did the following:
Maintained strong growth since 2019. This timeframe captures a good year (2019) and a bad year (2020).
Showed the greatest numbers of job postings. This indicates that these jobs are in high demand and also hard to fill.
Pay at least $50K (average) annual salary. While many lower-paying jobs are also important and in demand, here we focused on jobs that offer family-sustaining wages.
We then curated the list based on the top 100 titles and found that they fall into seven categories. These categories provide excellent perspective on the jobs that the 2021 economy needs and that will likely thrive over the next 12 months.
Core business functions
A note before we dive in. All work is important. All work is essential. If you are 17 and earning $12/hour flipping burgers, that is essential. If you are 35 and working part-time at the local department store and working nights and weekends to help offset the bills, that is essential. That is what you need to be doing. It is just as important for you and your family as any other job. If you mow lawns, cut hair, teach, code, sell, fly airplanes, or run your own business—essential, essential, essential.
So if your job doesn’t appear on this list, fear not. This is just a list. There’s more important work out there than we can discuss in one blog post!
Making sure critical items (food, medicine, clothes, building materials, etc.) get where they need to be on time—including all that stuff you ordered online.
Given the boom in online shopping last year, logistics is, in many ways, our most important category. Logistics firms face an ever-present talent shortage. From 2019 to 2020, there were a staggering 14.7M unique job postings for truck drivers alone: e.g., long-distance CDL truck drivers, regional truck drivers, and company truck drivers. As for warehouse jobs, warehousing was one of the few sectors in which employment shot up during COVID, with 46,000 more jobs in September than in February.
All your medical needs
Healthcare was in a weird place in 2020. While public health and the medical system was in sharp focus, healthcare job postings actually declined from 2019. This slump was likely due to forced shutdown of a lot of normal medical activity (e.g., elective surgeries).
And now, given that three out of five nurses plan to quit, healthcare (and nursing in particular) are in dire straights. With many healthcare workers leaving because they are scared, burned out, or unable to work because they’re needed at home with the kids, healthcare is the second most important, hard-to-fill job on our list.
Three healthcare categories stand out for 2021:
Nursing jobs – A huge array of nursing job titles are in demand, many of them travel positions.
Mental health jobs – During COVID, 52% of behavioral health organizations experienced increased demand for services, while 65% have had to turn away patients. Lockdowns simultaneously drove Americans into compromised mental states and, ironically, deprived many of normal treatment.
Other healthcare jobs – Surgical and medical techs, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, dietitians, and medical directors are all in high demand. And veterinarians. Hey, pets need healthcare too.
Pretty much every service you interact with: banking, schooling, traveling, shopping, investing, etc.
Tech is the no-brainer of the century. It’s vital to not just the economy, but the way we live: coding, analyzing, improving, maintaining, and supporting the many software systems that form key infrastructures. Four main types of tech jobs are growing rapidly and need more talent:
Data – Data science, data engineering, and data architecture are all huge categories with tons of demand. These are people who work with and make sense of the vast troves of company data. In Lightcast’s case, these are the people who process and prepare the data we deliver to you—in fact, the very data behind this blog post. Consider data scientists in particular. Data scientists were already in huge demand in 2019, due to the exploding need for data analytics within not just the tech sphere, but also marketing, higher education, and manufacturing. In 2020, that demand only increased. COVID lockdowns threw many industries off their game, but not data science. Last year, the demand for data scientists shot up by an average of 50% across healthcare, telecommunications, media/entertainment, finance, and other sectors.
IT/security – When people live on their computers for work, school, entertainment, and shopping, then IT and security needs escalate. The US is currently suffering an IT talent crisis, so one of 2021’s greatest needs is for people who can maintain and protect our many systems: email, banking, tools, products, etc. Some of the job titles that grew during 2019-2020 are site reliability, IT specialists, and cybersecurity (for which there is a particular talent shortage).
Software development – And why do we need all these data and IT people? Because we build a lot of software. The US is currently facing a critical shortage of software engineers. The BLS estimates that by 2026, the US will have a shortage of more than 1.2M developers. “Software developers” includes engineers and developers of all types: full stack, cloud, .NET, AWS, Java, front end, and business intelligence. These are all great bets for 2021.
Scrum – All those software developers need excellent project managers, making Scrum Masters vital in the tech world.
4. Core Business Functions
Every business in the US. These people keep businesses ticking. Without sales, marketing, CS, HR, finance, and operations, companies wouldn’t exist.
Jobs related to core business functions have seen strong growth the past two years, proving themselves to be highly resilient even in a troubled economy.
Sales, customer service, marketing – Sales is the lifeblood of every business, requiring teamwork from sales reps proper (inking deals), marketing (creating interest, awareness, and leads), and customer service (serving clients). Key roles for 2021 include directors of business development, solutions architects, sales and account execs, digital marketing managers, marketplace managers, product managers, and customer success managers.
Human resources – A huge challenge facing companies in 2021 is winning the race to snatch top talent. According to a recent survey by Jobvite, 58% of recruiters cite a lack of skilled/qualified candidates as the biggest hiring challenge. Why are workers so hard to find? Labor force participation is low, folks are stressed, and many employees are isolated and in need of employee engagement—usually from within HR. As a result, companies are looking to boost their HR teams in order to find, hire, and help all those people. Roles like human resources specialists, and directors of human resources have shown solid growth and are important for 2021.
Finance and operations – The business world needs those key drivers that can keep the ship afloat and heading in the right direction. Here we see big needs in finance (analysts, tax pros, CFOs, finance managers, directors of finance, financial planners) and operations (directors of operations and program managers). These departments deal with a wide range of topics related to payroll, overall financial management, and ensuring the building is in good order. All huge undertakings and important jobs for 2021.
Millions of children, college students, and working adults, especially those struggling with isolation.
Education is one of the most heavily discussed and tricky-to-navigate areas of the labor market. Should schools be open? Should they be closed? No matter where you fall on that spectrum, we can all agree that education has been blitzed like few other sectors.
Millions of kids have missed a full year of in-person education. Millions of parents have also had to work from home and 4.3 million are in danger of having to quit their jobs in order to take care of kids. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, 10% of US colleges are now exclusively online, which removes thousands of students from in-person classes. An estimated 28 million college students have canceled their education plans. Bottom line, education was severely rattled during 2020. And, according to Inside Higher Ed, it is having a massive negative impact on the mental health of all students.
So it makes sense that most of the important education jobs for 2021 pertain to developmental and behavioral issues. Speech pathologists, special education teachers, and certified behavior experts show high demand throughout 2019-2020, highlighting the real nature of the problem: extreme mental and emotional health issues in America’s younger generation. Students of all ages are suffering the psychological effects of isolation, separation, loss of routine, loss of friends. In response, schools and educational systems are investing in professionals to help deal with the emotional fallout of 2020.
Colleges are also advertising for adjunct faculty, likely due to the need to pick up part-time faculty to teach special subjects in a quicker time frame. Adjunct faculty are also better for the bottom line. With enrollment in decline, colleges are worried about staying in business, and need to adjust their hiring for tighter budgets.
6. Skilled Trades
Anyone who lives or works in a physical space. These people make sure the lights stay on. Literally.
Perhaps they aren’t as flashy as tech or business jobs, but maintenance and repair jobs are just as vital to the economy. Examples of key skilled jobs for 2021 include automotive techs (keeping our cars going), maintenance mechanics (keeping our buildings and houses going), plumbers (keeping all that water flowing), and HVAC (keeping our houses and buildings warm or cool).
We also see a great deal of need for food service techs to deal with a wide variety of food preparation, cleaning, sanitizing, menu prep, etc., for a wide variety of organizations such as nursing homes, hospitals, and restaurants.
Finally, the US needs people who manage production and manufacturing operations (aka production shift supervisors). Manufacturing is a massive sector and there is always a need for skilled overseers to manage both processes and employees.
7. Public Safety
The protection and upkeep of a lawful society.
Our seventh and final category of important jobs for 2021 clinches a bit of a pattern: Mental health, behavioral health, and now public safety. You know your country is in a rough spot when public safety is a top priority.
The US needs more police officers in particular. 2020 was a brutal year for cops. Defunded, vilified, or frustrated, many police officers are just quitting. Of America’s 50 largest cities, at least 23 have seen officers resign or retire, and now 86% of US police departments are suffering a shortage of officers. As a result, there is a growing demand for more cops to battle surging crime rates.
So there you have it. Seven important areas of work to think about for 2021. In our next installment we will consider in-demand skills for the next year. Stay tuned!
Contact us if you have questions or comments about this data.