The Creative Economy: Where Will the Jobs Be and How Can Workers Prepare

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Growing up in a small town in the South, it was well known that if you wanted to “make something of yourself” (i.e. build a career or get a high-paying, creative or high-powered job), it meant leaving home and moving to the city. We didn’t question this belief. It was unspoken and reinforced by many of our parents, teachers and other adults eager to push us out of the familiar nest of our small town into a bigger world of opportunity.

Big cities are still the most obvious places to find these coveted knowledge-based or “creative class,” jobs, as economist Richard Florida describes them. These are jobs, according to Florida, that pay more and demand a high level of skill or expertise. Typically, they encompass fields such as law; health care and education; science, technology and engineering; business, finance and management; and arts, culture, media and entertainment.

While large U.S. metros like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Houston, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas and Philadelphia continue to boast the highest concentration of creative class jobs, that balance is starting to shift, as Florida illustrates in a recent post on his Atlantic Cities blog.

By 2020, the U.S. is expected to add nearly 7 million creative class jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Projected growth for these jobs over the next decade show the biggest increases in small metros — places like Rochester, Minn.; Ocala, Fla.; Punta Gorda, Fla.; Goldsboro, N.C.; Steubenville, Ohio; Lima, Ohio; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Dothan, Ala.; and Huntington, W.Va.

Growth in creative class jobs is also expected in larger but lower-profile cities like Tampa, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Cleveland, Ohio; Birmingham, Ala.; St. Louis, Mo.; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. With nearly a third of the workforce — more than 43 million people — already employed in creative class work and those numbers rising, it’s no surprise that jobs in this category are becoming more evenly dispersed across the U.S. and gaining prevalence in mid-sized and smaller metros.

The shift currently taking place in the U.S. from an industrial economy to a creative one has been a long time coming (see charts illustrating this here). Nearly a century ago, the majority of people worked on the farm. More than 50 years ago, at least half worked in factories. Today, the fastest growing jobs fall into the professional, technical, knowledge and/or creative realm. And cities with the fastest growing job markets this year just happened to be in creative and knowledge-drive regions like Austin, Raleigh, San Jose, Houston, Charlotte and Nashville.

Though this shift was already in motion, the Recession helped perpetuate it. With the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs over the past few years and the growing digitization of many physical- and production-oriented jobs, analytical and social intelligence skills have become more valuable than ever for workers who want to succeed post-Recession.

Creative class jobs pay well — about $70,000 on average — because they leverage these two types of skills: analytical or cognitive, and social intelligence, which is essentially the ability to organize people around goals, recruit and lead teams and mobilize the right people for projects. Though a large majority of college graduates are working in creative class jobs, four in 10 creative class workers do not hold college degrees, according to Florida.

Creative class skills are increasingly becoming a bigger part of all jobs. In manufacturing, employers are looking for more knowledgeable workers who not only know how to guide and maintain advanced machinery, but can also solve problems, improve productivity and drive innovation for the company. Doing knowledge-based and creative work boosts wages by 16 percent and having a combination of analytical, social and creative skill is the fastest ticket to wage increases for blue-collar and service workers.