Bending the Linear toward the Circular
"Q Sectors" and Sustainability
3 min read

"Q Sectors" and Sustainability

Developing IT Jobs at All Levels is a Key to Sustainability and Creation of a Global Circular Economy

About five years ago at the beginning of 2016 I wrote an article for the Altoros company blog about "Q sectors."

All national economies are traditionally viewed as having three basic sectors – the first, or primary (agriculture and extraction), the secondary (industrial), and the third, or tertiary (services). The "Q" means "quarternary" and "quinary," more simply stated as "fourth" and "fifth."

The Good Jobs
The Q sectors are the so-called silver-collar and gold-collar jobs found at the high end of the service economy. They include doctors, lawyers, CPAs, professors, and other high-end professionals. They also include IT professionals at all levels and sectors of organizations.

The distinction between quarternary and quinary in IT is blurry, though we can imagine programmers and administrators in the fourth sector and CIO/CTOs and architects in the fifth.

For my purposes, the distinction is irrelevant. What's important is, if one accepts that aggressive IT development is a key to positive socioeconomic progress around the world (as I believe), then a key vision and mission for any nation is to ramp up IT jobs across the board and thereby strengthen its Q sectors. (That a progressively growing society will also need to be increasing other Q-sector jobs, even lawyers, seems self-evident to me.)

Counter-Intuitive, but Correct
Q-sector development runs counter to what many politicians and their constituents believe, which is their nations should be focusing on building (or re-building) a strong manufacturing sector. This belief is prevalent in developing nations that seek to pull people out of subsistence poverty, as well as in developed nations, which yearn for the good old days of booming factories and Buying Local.

In fact, the world economy today is led by its service sector (at about 64% or $48 trillion), followed by industry (31% or $23 trillion), and agriculture/extraction (6% or $4.4 trillion). These number show, among many things, that the world is feeding itself with minimal effort – hunger issues today are a function of bad government and bad government policy.

The Wealthiest Nations Have It
Today's wealthiest societies amplify this trend; they have the largest service sectors, not the largest industrial sectors. The United States economy, for example, is now 80% services, 19% industrial, and 1% agricultural. (Even so, it has the second-largest industrial sector in the world, trailing only China. Its industrial sector is more than three times that of Germany and almost three times that of Japan).

Germany and Japan, by the way, are nearly identical, with about 71% in services, 28% industrial, and 1% agricultural. China is 53% services, 40% industrial, and 7% agricultural. South Korea and Indonesia also have industrial sectors of around 40% of their economies. (Other nations with official industrial sectors of 40% and beyond accrue most of this from oil, which could also be classified as primary.)

In contrast, countries with the smallest service sectors are uniformly developing nations, as are countries with the largest agricultural sectors.

Services Lead to the Q Sectors
A wealthier economy today will have a larger service sector. This statement is not blind to the fact that some industry must exist (ongoing US industrial might providing an example), and it's not blind to the fact that many service jobs are ill-paid and unhealthy. Those issues need to be addressed by all nations of the world, developed and developing. But the migration from agriculture and industry to services over the past century won't be turned back – the opportunities here, for nations as a whole and their people, is to look at the higher tiers of the tertiary economy, that is, the Q sectors.

Little Data, But Here's an Approach to Take
As noted above, I started this Q sector research in 2016. In the interim, official data for describing the extent of Q sectors has been almost non-existent, although there is some data in some nations about IT employment.

In the face of this, I've created a method and index to accompany the core Tau Index work that I do. I've made the assumption that optimal levels of Q-sector employment are driven more by income than by population.

For example, Germany and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) have sort-of roughly the same populations, but I wouldn't expect the latter to have nearly as many IT jobs as the former. The question is, what should be expect? To what can we aspire? Determining these relative benchmarks and answering these questions is the core of my work.

Similar, closer distinctions could be made by countries with similar populations such as South Korea and Colombia, Malaysia and Angola, the Netherlands and Senegal, etc. and for every nation in the world.

I've been able to establish "predicted" and "ideal" levels of IT employment in 144 nations. Matching these numbers against reality is difficult, but we can assume that very few nations are at an ideal level. This index produces benchmarks that can serve as goals.

Expectation and Aspiration
What should we expect? To what can we aspire? By "we" I mean all the people of each nation and all the people of the world who are working on these problems. Q-sector development is a linchpin, a keystone, a foundational piece of getting the global economy oriented 100% toward sustainability, carbon-zero and -negative, and becoming a circular global economy.

This is an existential mission requiring all the thinking matter of everyone. To define Q sectors, measure their growth, and focus on their development is a key mission in fulfilling, as quickly as possible, this mission.