Over the past 241 years, the American workforce has undergone a number of epic shifts. We started out generally as a nation of farmers and, as equipment improved and cities grew, many began to leave behind the family farm in favor of better-paying factory jobs. By the early 1900s, 38 percent of American workers toiled on farms while another 31 percent worked in factories, mining, or construction. Advances in technology over the next century commonly meant ever fewer jobs for farmers and factory workers, and by 2000, nearly 80 percent of the American workforce was in the service industry—up from 31 percent in 1900—with only 3 percent working in farming, according to the US Department of Labor.
The workforce might now be in the throes of another major transition. As retail employment appears to soften and cognitive technologies threaten office jobs, opportunities may be expanding in the health care sector, driven by an aging population and increased access to health insurance. Students appear to be aware of the trend: Nursing schools are seeing booming enrollment. In fact, nursing is now the third-most sought-after bachelor’s degree—just slightly behind general business and management—out of 1,416 degrees tracked. By 2024, forecasters expect about 3.2 million registered nurses in the workforce, up 16 percent from 2014. Some specializations within nursing are expected to see even more dramatic growth, according to Data USA.