Getting Into the Services Industry
CONSUMER SERVICES, HOMEMAKING SERVICES, PERSONAL SERVICES, THE OUTLOOK FOR SERVICE JOBS
Although consumer, homemaking, and personal services are as diverse as dog grooming, wedding consulting, window cleaning, and consumer advocacy, they all have one important thing in common: service. Service-producing industries can be divided into several areas, including transportation, business, communications, finance, health, retail trade, utilities, and government.
The service-producing industries are the largest and fastest-growing segment of the American economy. A primary reason for this rapid growth is that women have been moving into the labor force in unprecedented numbers since the early 1960s. Before that time, most women worked within the home as homemakers. They took care of such jobs as housecleaning, cooking, laundry, shopping, errands, and child care. Times have changed, however: the majority of women now work outside the home, and their presence is projected to grow. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of women in the labor force will increase by 10.9 percent. Consequently, women have less time for traditional homemaking tasks. For this reason, many of these tasks have been transferred to the marketplace. The growth of technology also has created a demand for services. As everyday lifestyles become more complicated, Americans have come to depend on the specialized knowledge of others.
Another reason for the growth of the service sector is the increase in the number of unmarried people who often live alone and hold jobs. Single or divorced people do not have partners with whom to share household tasks or run errands. On a typical day, for example, a single person may get up in the morning and put on clothes that were washed and pressed at a local laundry. Before leaving for work she may leave a note for the housecleaning service and telephone the dog-walking service with instructions. At lunchtime she may make an appointment with her personal shopper to select clothes for an upcoming business function. On her way home from work she may stop at the gym for a workout with her personal trainer and then meet a friend at a favorite restaurant. In just one day this single person has used a wide range of consumer, homemaking, and personal services.
Unlike workers in many other industries, people employed in service industries do not produce a tangible commodity, such as a television. Instead, they help people. Their work may involve caring for people, entertaining them, supplying them with information, advising or motivating them, or making their lives easier in countless ways.
Variety and flexibility are key features of jobs in consumer, homemaking, and personal services. There are jobs to suit a wide range of interests, skills, and education. Some jobs have a long history, whereas others are new to the workplace. Despite their great variety, these jobs do have one major trait in common—they are all concerned with helping individuals and families in their daily lives.
The United States is a nation of consumers. Americans buy most of their food, clothing, and household items. There are a number of jobs in the service industry that support the consumer. With so many products on the market, consumers rely on consumer advocates to help protect them from unscrupulous sellers. In turn, sellers employ consumer credit counselors to help ensure buyers can pay for their purchases. Consumer credit counselors can also help the buyer to not overextend themselves financially.
Consumers have multiple ways of making purchases. They may buy them from home via the Internet, over the phone, or through the mail, or they may go to retail stores. No matter how they obtain these items, many don't have the time to shop, or they would like advice on what to purchase. This creates a demand for workers who can help consumers with making purchases, from personal shopping to wedding consulting. Some people also hire workers to help them care for the things they own. These workers may groom animals, organize closets and drawers, tune pianos, and dry clean clothes. Other consumer services workers repair products such as washing machines, cameras, and DVD players.
Consumer advocates investigate product claims and company practices, handle consumer complaints, inform consumers about product quality, and safeguard consumer rights. The consumer advocacy movement began in the 1960s. Led by Ralph Nader, supporters of the movement battled giant corporations, identifying unsafe products and exposing unfair practices. Many TV news shows and newspaper and magazine articles continue to deal with these issues. Consumer Reports magazine has been testing products and reporting their findings to consumers since 1936. Laws protecting consumer rights have been passed, and the public is much more aware of consumer issues. In 2001 thirteen countries founded econsumer.gov, a group committed to improving buyer confidence in e-commerce and preventing Internet consumer fraud.
The term "credit" means that payment is expected at some time in the future for goods given on trust. With the growth in the use of credit in the United States, a new career has emerged—that of consumer credit counselor. The Federal Reserve Board reported that credit card debt in the United States had reached $796 billion by the end of 2004. Some credit counselors offer advice to consumers and help them manage their financial affairs. Counselors negotiate with banks to lower interest rates and help consumers devise a plan for paying back creditors, staying out of debt, and developing and maintaining a budget.
Department stores, banks, and other credit organizations also employ consumer credit counselors. The counselors assess the credit worthiness of people who apply for credit and advise their employers on whether to extend credit to the applicants. This service is in high demand; it was estimated that Americans carried 550 million store credit cards in their wallets in 2004, according to a Cardweb.com survey.
Buying clothes can be expensive and time consuming. Fashions change, and professionals who want to "dress for success" must keep up with these changes. It also takes time to comparison shop and look for bargains. Because working Americans have less and less free time to devote to shopping, a new group of workers has emerged to assist consumers.
Many personal shoppers work for large department stores, where they assist customers in choosing clothing and building a wardrobe. Their service is usually free to customers. Most personal shoppers earn a salary plus commission, so while it is their job to assist customers, it is also their job to sell clothing. As personal shoppers get to know each customer's lifestyle and tastes, they are better able to meet the customer's needs and save the customer time.
A busy executive, for example, may call her personal shopper about an upcoming business trip. By the time the executive gets to the store, the personal shopper has already set aside items that she thinks are suitable for both the customer and the occasion. The executive examines the personal shopper's selections, makes a few decisions, and pays for the clothes. Less than an hour later, her shopping trip is finished. Personal shoppers may cut down on shopping time even more by delivering clothes to the customer.
Some busy executives hire a personal shopper to help with their Christmas shopping. These services can be expensive—a personal shopper working independently may charge as much as $250 per hour—so it's important to check the background of a shopper. In good economic times, some personal shoppers get more business than they can handle; the demand declines during a recession. Moreover, competition for these positions tends to be very stiff.
Image consultants take personal shopping a step further. They may visit clients' homes to look over clothes in their closet, help them decide what look is best for their line of work, and then advise them on how to achieve that look. Many professionals have found that having an image consultant is a boost to their confidence on the job.
An area similar to image consulting is wedding consulting. According to a 2005 article on Entrepreneur.com, the average cost for an American wedding with 125 to 150 guests is about $17,500, so people want to get their money's worth. Wedding consultants assist the bride-to-be in purchasing her bridal gown, choosing dresses for her attendants, and selecting items such as jewelry, shoes, and flowers. Many wedding consultants know the rules of etiquette and can advise a nervous bride or groom on almost any wedding-related matter. Wedding consultants may also assist with the various purchases and customs required of a large traditional wedding, from caterers and reception halls to limousine services and the gift registry. A good business background and the ability to understand and meet a customer's expectations are key for this job.
Couples preparing for a wedding can also receive help when they register for gifts at certain stores. Most stores that have these registries employ wedding consultants to help brides and grooms select everything from china to bath towels. The consultants enter the choices on a computer and then provide wedding guests with a printed list to refer to as they shop for a gift. New technologies and nationwide chain stores have made buying wedding gifts easier for outof-town guests who are able to obtain a couple's registry at the same store in their hometown.
According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association's 2005/2006 National Pet Owners Survey, Americans own more than 164 million cats and dogs, and they spend millions of dollars caring for their pets. Boarding kennels, obedience classes, and grooming salons have become well-established businesses in many communities. New services are being offered as well, such as self-service dog washes, pet-walking services, home pet day care, and upscale dog spas. Some owners even consult a pet psychologist for problems such as hyperactivity and attention-seeking disorders. An April 2005 article in the Chicago Tribune stated that 90 percent of pet owners buy their pets gifts for Christmas. In addition, more people spend time reading the nutrition labels for their pet's food than their own food. The pet care industry will likely continue to be a growing sector.
Repair and Maintenance
Technological advances have affected jobs in repair and maintenance. On the one hand, technology has led to a decrease in the number of workers in certain jobs. For example, the need for watch repairers and shoe repairers has declined dramatically. Modern technology, mass production techniques, and new materials have resulted in the availability of inexpensive watches and shoes. Now many consumers choose to buy a new watch or shoes rather than pay to have an inexpensive watch or shoes repaired.
At the same time, technology has increased the number of other jobs. For example, modern homes are equipped with a variety of complex and expensive electronic appliances. Few Americans have the specialized knowledge or tools to maintain and repair them. As a result, they turn to experts for the maintenance and repair of these items.
A weak economy is usually a bonanza for repair and maintenance. During an economic slowdown, such as the recession of the early 1990s, people are less likely to buy expensive, new items. Instead they spend smaller sums of money to make their old, worn items last longer. This means jobs for repair and maintenance workers.
Jobs in homemaking services include in-home services provided on a regular basis by homemakers and domestics as well as services that are provided outside the home on a short-term basis. This category includes services provided by family and consumer scientists, dietitians, nutritionists, and interior designers.
People who work within the home, such as housekeepers, cooks, nannies, and gardeners, are often referred to as domestics. These workers perform the daily chores that help a household run efficiently. The demand for private household workers far exceeds the supply. The situation is not likely to improve, because women who formerly took jobs as private household workers now find jobs that offer better pay and benefits in industry. The decline in the number of teenagers and young adults—another traditional source of household workers—has also contributed to the labor shortage. To fill the void, many families hire foreign workers, but immigration laws make this difficult. Consequently, employers are turning to domestic cleaning firms, day care centers, and temporary agencies for help.
In the mid-1990s the term home economics was replaced with the term family and consumer science. Family and consumer scientists provide homemaking services through research, education, and marketing. Their information provides help to people as they decide how to best feed and clothe their families, how to manage their homes efficiently and economically, and how to improve the quality of the home environment in many other ways.
Family and consumer scientists are employed in many occupations, including teaching, research, and writing, and in a variety of settings, such as schools, businesses, hospitals, and government. Some family and consumer scientists provide information by writing brochures and newspaper articles and by conducting demonstrations and classes. Others help businesses develop products and services for homemakers and advise businesses on people's needs. Still others lobby for laws that will improve the well-being of families.
Family and consumer science curricula in schools and colleges emphasize overall household management. Included are courses in consumer education, interior design, nutritional analysis, child development, and family life. More men are entering the field of family and consumer science, as the increase in the variety of occupations is making family and consumer science more appealing.
The area of personal services has four main functions. One is to help people feel and look better. Cosmetologists, electrologists, and personal exercise trainers work toward this goal. A second function is to provide physical and emotional care to the young, the elderly, and others who need such help. Child-care workers and companions meet this need. A third function is to help people in times of crisis or change. Divorce mediators and funeral directors perform these personal services. A fourth function is to provide time-saving services. Home caterers and professional organizers are three examples of the many personal service workers who provide this type of assistance.
Cosmetology is the care of people's hair, skin, and nails. The field includes barbers, beauticians, hair-stylists, beauty consultants, and makeup artists. There are countless nail salons being opened in department stores and strip malls. However, the classes required to work in this field can be expensive and time consuming. Electrology, the permanent removal of unwanted hair, is a related profession. Most states require a license to practice these occupations.
Because American society values an attractive appearance, the demand for cosmetologists will continue to increase. Women want to look their best, and working women have money to spend on beauty products and services. To be competitive in the business world, men, too, are discovering the need to present an attractive, vigorous appearance.
Trends and fads in cosmetology change often as new products and services are introduced into the market, and people who work in cosmetology must keep up to date on what people are looking for. One popular new trend is toward the use of organic or natural products, including sea-derived cosmetics. Many consumers are also concerned with the issue of animal cruelty and look for cosmetics that have not been tested on animals.
Fitness services—professional guidance on exercise—are often provided by personal exercise trainers. Although personal exercise trainers were once thought of as a luxury only the wealthy could afford, they have recently become more popular as the cost for their services has decreased and the weight of Americans has increased. The American Obesity Association reports that 127 million Americans are overweight; trainers can help teach clients how to lower their weight and live a healthy lifestyle. Some personal exercise trainers work at a gym or other fitness facility, whereas others go to their clients' homes. In either case the trainer sets up an individualized fitness program for each client. Some personal trainers have degrees in anatomy, exercise physiology, or related fields. Most are certified by one or more fitness organizations.
With more mothers in the workforce, the demand for well-trained child care workers has risen significantly. Child care workers take care of other people's children on a full-time or part-time basis. Child care includes the full-time care of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. It also includes before- and after-school care for school-age children.
The most common type of child care takes place in private homes. In family-operated day care, a worker opens his or her home to other people's children. These day care workers often care for their own children as well. Many such caregivers are licensed, and some have degrees in child development. These licensed, private day care centers are often regulated by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which provides guidelines on nutrition, hours, and how many children can be cared for at a time.
Many working parents use the services of public child care centers instead of those in private homes. Some centers are affiliated with a church or synagogue, while others are owned by public companies. One such company is KinderCare—the largest public provider of child care in the United States, operating more than one thousand centers across the country. Because most centers do not take children who are ill, some specialty centers focus on the care of sick children. Such centers employ nurses and maintain separate rooms for children with contagious diseases such as the flu. Another child care option is for parents to get together with other parents and form a cooperative in which they share the expenses and take part in hiring the workers.
Although relatively few businesses—usually only very large corporations—provide onsite child care, job-site care is in great demand by working parents. Taking children to work with them alleviates the need for dropping off and picking up children from day care. Parents are also nearby in case of emergency or illness. In lieu of onsite care, some businesses are offering child care referral services and flexible work schedules.
Whereas many working parents need help finding affordable, reliable child care, many other Americans need help finding care for an elderly relative. With the average life span of American men and women increasing—the population of people age eighty-five and over is expected to increase by 33.2 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—experts predict that almost every family will soon have an elderly relative to care for. Often, however, family members are unable to provide the needed level of care because they live too far away, work during the day, or lack the necessary skills.
As a result of the increasing need for elder care, adult day care centers are becoming more common. Adult day care centers provide transportation, meals, rehabilitation and social services, and assistance with physical needs.
Other workers provide in-home care for elderly people. These workers may prepare meals, do housekeeping, and assist with a variety of other tasks. Their goal is to help the elderly meet their needs and maintain their independence without having to move from their homes into a hospital or nursing care facility.
Marriage meant "forever"—until the 1980s, when there were half as many divorces as marriages. Although the divorce rate has dropped slightly, divorce mediation firms are becoming increasingly popular, as couples strive to avoid costly litigation and attorney fees. A divorce mediator helps the parties work together to find mutually satisfactory solutions, from dividing assets to determining child custody and care. Although divorce mediators do not take the place of lawyers, they can help the two parties avoid court disputes and speed the process.
When a family member dies, the family needs assistance in handling the logistics of a funeral. Funeral directors and embalmers provide these services. Many funeral homes are now recommending that people plan their own funerals and pay for them in advance to help reduce the number of difficult decisions that survivors must make. Funeral homes are also beginning to offer additional services such as video tributes to the deceased person and grief support groups.
All states require funeral directors to be licensed. Directors must be at least twenty-one years of age, have two years of education, and have practiced with a licensed funeral facility for at least one year. Many funeral homes are locally owned, and jobs in the funeral service field continue to increase as people retire.
Many Americans complain that they do not have enough time to get everything done. For a fee, they can hire a personal service worker to save them time by performing a wide range of tasks, such as running errands, standing in line for tickets to a concert, or waiting at the house while an appliance is repaired. Personal service workers might plan a child's birthday party, search for a rare book, or supervise the redecorating of a home. Professional organizers will even clean and organize a client's closets and drawers for maximum efficiency.
THE OUTLOOK FOR SERVICE JOBS
The United States is changing from a land of factories to a land of office buildings. The economy is gaining thousands of service jobs every year, while the number of manufacturing jobs is decreasing. In fact, service-producing industries will account for virtually all of the job growth through the end of the decade. Many service workers enjoy their jobs, finding that their greatest reward is the feeling of satisfaction that comes from helping other people.
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