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Dead Industries: Ways to Get Out and Move On

By Lydia Dishman
If you’re knocking on doors looking for work, there are some doors you may want to skip. The economy continues to show signs of rebounding, with increases in consumer spending and a jobless rate that has declined to nine percent. But, be careful. While career opportunities are predicted to grow in thriving industries like healthcare and technology, the flip side is that some industries have a lot of occupations that are becoming obsolete.

The majority of these dead-end positions are in manufacturing, production, and administrative support, all of which are affected by automation technologies and lean business practices that reduce the need for workers in plants, factories and traditional office environments, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The limited job openings expected in these sectors won’t necessarily come from job growth, but from the need to replace employees who will transfer to other industries or retire.

So how can you tell if you are in a dead end job? Here are five of the sectors that are expected to decline between now and 2018, according to the BLS. We asked career experts to discuss how to take the skills you may have acquired in these industries and leverage them to make the leap to a more sustainable position.


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Sewing machine operators, textile winding machine setters, and cut-and-sew apparel makers will experience the sharpest declines in employment opportunities in the next decade, with as much as a 40 percent drop in number of those employed, predicts the BLS.

Dorothy Tannahill Moran, an Oregon-based career coach, says textile industry jobs often have the same or similar counterparts in many manufacturing companies. A person moving from the declining textile industry should spend time researching job requirements in other industries to find companies needing compatible skills, such as those in automotive manufacturing. The automotive industry is now experiencing some growth thanks to the introduction of alternative fuels and increased investment by foreign automakers in U.S. facilities. Assembly workers can expect to make over $16 per hour, according to online salary database


Door-to-door salespeople and telemarketers may soon go the way of the milkman with declines of 14 and 11 percent respectively for each occupation. The good news is that communication and people skills transfer very well to other industries, such as retail which is expected to grow by 8 percent over the next 10 years and sales associates can earn between $7 and $12 per hour, not including performance bonuses, PayScale data shows.

Larry Stybel, executive-in-residence at Sawyer Business School at Suffolk University in Boston, says that when you’re leaving a dying industry, it’s best to keep the focus on you when talking to a prospective employer. “Your mission is not to change other people's views about your old company or industry. Your mission is to differentiate yourself from the public perception of that company or industry. Talk about what you accomplished and how you were different."

Office Support

File, mail, and information clerks and other administrative support staff can expect double-digit declines in employment by 2018. Fortunately, the BLS predicts that executive assistants, receptionists and bookkeeping clerks will still be in demand, especially in the healthcare industry where medical records clerks can earn over $11 per hour, not including bonuses.

Angela Martin, owner of Defining Success Coaching, advises job seekers to highlight universal skills, such as time management, attention to detail, and effective communication that will translate from office to office.

Computer Technology

Data processors and computer operators, who manually maintain a log of computer system errors, aren’t safe, as the latter occupation is expected to shrink over 18 percent. However, computer skills are a good jumping off point for moving up in the information technology industry, where computer software engineers are headed for growth. An associate’s degree may be the only thing standing between you and earning $57,800 per year.

Before making the leap to a new career, Stacey Hawley, Principal and Owner of Credo, a career counseling and leadership development firm, recommends developing your resume using an executive summary that highlights your key competencies and areas of expertise, honors, awards and accomplishments.


First-line supervisors or production managers and workers can expect to be phased out with lean manufacturing practices, but success in those jobs depends on a capacity for leadership and inspiring teamwork. You can take that job title and move from the factory floor to an office environment where office managers can expect 11 percent growth and a median annual wage of $37,200 per year.

Additionally, career coach Paula Gregorowicz reminds those looking to switch industries that if you were a diligent employee, learn quickly, and have strong management know-how, abilities she considers innate and “not teachable the way that skills are,” you’ll be valuable in nearly any job.

Source: Salary data provided by online salary database, All median hourly and annual salaries are for full-time employees with 5-8 years of experience. Annual salaries include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.

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