Remember the famous career advice scene in the 1967 movie The Graduate? A businessman buttonholes Benjamin Braddock, the recent college graduate played by Dustin Hoffman, and imparts his wisdom of how to get ahead with one word: Plastics. At the time it was the leading edge of an industrial economy where wealth creation meant making tangible things.

Contrast that job counsel to the career prediction of Hal Varian, chief economist at Google. In an interview with McKinsey & Co. late last year, Varian remarked that "the sexy job in the ten years will be statisticians." In a word: Statistics. It's the kind of job that flourishes in an economy led by idea-driven, knowledge-based, conceptual companies in biotechnology, healthcare information systems, web-based search engines and the like.

Follow Chris Farrell at @cfarrellecon