Future Jobs 2020

“There is no future in any job. The future lies in
the person who holds the job.” – George W. Crane

One of my primary complaints with higher education is that they tend to prepare students for jobs of the past. The way a Midwesterner would phrase it, “they are constantly shooting behind the duck.”

Similarly, whenever a column is written about the best paying jobs of the future, jobs like civil engineers, registered nurses, and computer system analysts, they are all jobs that currently exist today.

Yes, many of these jobs will still exist in the future, but every one of them will morph and change as technology and communication systems make their impact.

As an example, technology research firm IDC predicts the amount of data businesses will have access to will grow 50-fold over the next decade. As data becomes cheaper, faster, and more pervasive, the nature of our work begins to change as well.

The first wave of baby boomers has now turned 65. As this generation greys, their needs will change. Their growing numbers and increasing medical needs will require a different kind of health care professionals to take care of them.

As a rule of thumb, 60% of the jobs 10 years from now haven’t been invented yet. With that in mind, I’ve decided to pull together a list of 55 jobs that will be in high demand in the future.

Jobs Before 2020

Many of the changes we see today will cause new jobs to materialize quickly. This first section deals will new positions that will likely be spawned within the next 10 years.

1. Augmented Reality Architects – Much like the paint we put on houses and the flavorings we add to food, the future will seem boring if our reality hasn’t been augmented in some way.

2. Alternative Currency Bankers – According to Javelin Strategies, 20% of all online trades are already being done with alternative currencies. The stage is being set for next-gen alt-currency banks.

3. Seed Capitalists – In the startup business world there is a huge gulf between initial concept and fundable prototypes. This dearth of funding options will require an entirely new profession. Seed capitalists will specialize in high-risk startups. Counter to todays investment-world thinking, if they get more than 100% return on their investments, they will be docked for not taking enough risk.

4. Global System Architects – Our systems are transitioning from national systems into global systems. Architects of these new global systems will play a crucial role in future global politics. More details here.

5. Locationists – People who specialize in adding the relevance of “place” to our global online communities.

6. Waste Data Managers – To insure data integrity in today’s fast evolving information storage industry, multiple redundancies have been built into the system. Achieving more streamline data storage in the future will require de-duplication specialists who can rid our data centers of needless copies and frivolous clutter.

7. Urban Agriculturalists – Why ship food all the way around the world when it can be grown next door. Next generation produce-growing operations will be located underground, often below the grocery stores where the produce will be sold directly to customers. More details here.

8. Business Colony Managers – The average person that turns 30 years old in the U.S. today has worked 11 different jobs. In just 10 years, the average person who turns 30 will have worked 200-300 different projects. Business colonies are an evolving new kind of organizational structure designed around matching talent with pending work projects. The operation will revolve around some combination of resident people based in a physical facility and a non-resident virtual workforce, with some opting to forgo the cost of the physical facility entirely. People who can effectively manage this type of operation will be in high demand. More details here.

9. Competition Producers – One of the hottest new trends will be to design incentive-based competitions to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Paving the way has been X-Prize Foundation’s Pete Diamandis and the success of the Ansari X-Prize. In the future, every major corporation will have their name on a major prize competition. Similar to buying the naming rights to a stadium, a well-orchestrated competition has far-reaching branding potential.

10. Avatar Designers – Next generation avatars will become indistinguishable from humans on a two-dimensional screen. However, avatars will only live in the computer world for a short time longer. It is only a matter of time before they emerge from the computer and appear as visual beings, walking around among us. Once an avatar goes through the radical metamorphosis from an image that we see on a screen to a three dimensional being that joins us for dinner, carries on conversations with our friends, and serves as a stand-in for us at meetings, we will see work start on an even more realistic avatar, one that we can touch. More details here.

11. Avatar Relationship Managers – As the foibles of humanity enter the realm of autonomous, freethinking avatars, people will find it necessary to both manage and limit the often dangerous relationships that avatars get themselves into.

12. 3D Printing Engineers – Classes in 3D printing are already being introduced into high schools and the demand for printer-produced products will skyrocket. The trend will be for these worker-less workshops to enter virtually every field of manufacturing, stemming the tide of outsourcing, at the same time, driving the need for competent technicians and engineers to design and maintain the next wave of this technology.

13. 3D Food-Printer Engineers – Pushing the envelope for 3D printer technology even further, will be the coming age of food printers. Converting 3D printers to work with cartridges containing food-stocks will prove difficult and demanding on a number of levels. Those who can solve this kind of problem will be in high demand. More details here.

14. Book-to-App Converters – Over the coming months we will begin to see a form of competition brewing between books and apps. With both being information products that we interface with differently, we will begin to see a large scale effort to convert existing books and literature into an interactive app, similar to the current effort to convert popular literature from print to audiobooks. More details here.

15. Social Education Specialists – We learn from each other. But what is it that we learn from others that is valuable? And how do we structure a circle of friends, as a highly influential group that we rely heavily on, to give us a constant stream of truly valuable information and advice.

16. Privacy Managers – If you think you have lost most of your privacy already, we’ve only scratched the surface. We are all terminally human, and as such, we do not always make good decisions. Striking the perfect privacy-transparency balance will require far more than amateur insights. It will require a privacy professional. More details here.

17. Wind Turbine Repair Techs – The proliferation of windmills around the world will dramatically drive the demand for repair techs who are not afraid of heights and can solve whatever new problems this fledgling new industry blows their way.

18. Data Hostage Specialists – Holding people as hostages is very messy. But holding data hostage is a less-risky crime that can be done remotely, and has the potential for far greater rewards. This is especially true if the country you’re living in condones your actions. This type of activity will give rise to the likes of data-hostage negotiators, data-retrieval specialists, and damage-control analysts.

19. Smart Dust Programmers – In it’s simplest form, smart dust consists of a sensor combined with a wireless transmitter and some kind of power source. Many are envisioning the power to come from wireless RF signals. The reason it is referred to as “smart dust” is because the technology is shrinking in size until it reaches the particle size of dust. Future designs for smart dust involve detecting everything from moisture content, to soil temperature, to chemical composition. More details here.

20. Personality Services – Talking back and forth to a computer that has a machine-like voice is boring. But being able to download specific “personality packages” will add an entirely new level of engagement for basement-dwellers everywhere. The hottest personalities to download will be offshoots of existing characters or celebrities such as being able to download a David Letterman personality, a Homer Simpson personality, or perhaps even a Darth Vader personality.

21. Smart Contact Developers – The idea of “smart” contact lenses, the kind that can superimpose information on the wearer’s field of view has been around for a while. But the first iteration of smart contact lenses is already on the market and industry execs are beginning to generate a wide array of possible applications. More details here.

22. Nano-Medics – The medical problems most people have can be traced to a single cell or a small group of them. Health professionals capable of working on the nano-level, both in designing diagnostics systems, remedies, and monitoring solutions will be in high demand.

23. New Science Philosopher-Ethicists – Every new technology creates its own set of unintended consequences, and people who can ask the tough questions and demand deeper introspection will be in high demand. Industry sages will serve as both a conscience and a guide for decision-makers everywhere.

24. Organ Agents – The demand for transplantable organs is exploding and people who can track down and deliver healthy organs will be in hot demand.

25. Octogenarian Service Providers – As the population continues the age we will have record numbers of people living into their 80s, 90s, and 100s. This mushrooming group of active oldsters will provide a demand for goods and services currently not being addressed in today’s marketplace.

26. Elevated Tube Transport Engineers – The next big infrastructure project on planet earth will be a human and cargo transport system designed around a network of vacuum tubes with maglev tracks. Operating at less than 2% of the cost of today’s car, truck, jet, ship, and train systems, this emerging tube transport system will be a massive undertaking that demands talented new-age thinkers for decades to come. More details here.

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The Dismantlers

Over the coming years will see a number of industries dismantled requiring a skilled workforce of talented people who can perform this task in the least disruptive way. Most of these industries have been built around aging facilities and infrastructure that will become unnecessary and unsustainable in the future. These will include:

27. Prison System Dismantlers – More details here.

28. Hospital and Healthcare Dismantlers – More details here.

29. Income Tax System Dismantlers - More details here and here.

30. Government Agency Dismantlers – More details here.

31. Education System Dismantlers - More details here and here and here.

32. College and University Dismantlers - More details here and here and here.

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Jobs in 2030 and Beyond

A number of technologies currently on the drawing board will require a bit longer lead time before the industry comes into its own. Here are a few examples of these kinds of jobs:

33. Drone Dispatchers – Drones will be used to deliver groceries and pizzas, deliver water, remove trash and sewage, monitor traffic and pollution, and change out the batteries on our homes. Skilled dispatchers for future drones will be high demand. More details here.

34. Brain Quants – Where the stock market manipulators of the past meet the brain manipulators of the future to usurp control of Madison Avenue.

35. Tree-Jackers – Plant and tree alteration specialists, who manipulate growth patterns, create grow-to-fit wood products, color-changing leaves, and personalized fruit. More details here.

36. Plant Psychologists – An entire profession dedicated to undo the damage caused by the Tree-Jackers

37. Extinction Revivalists – People who revive extinct animals.

38. Robotic Earthworm Drivers – The most valuable land on the planet will soon be the landfills because that is where we have buried our most valuable natural resources. In the future, robotic earthworms will be used to silently mine the landfills and replace whatever is extracted with high-grade soil.

39. Gravity Pullers – The first wave of people to unlock the code for influencing gravity.

40. Time Hackers – If we think cyber terrorists are a pain, it will seem like nothing compared to devious jerry-riggers who start manipulating the time fabric of our lives.

41. Clone Ranchers – Raising “blank” humans will be similar in many respects to cattle ranching. But once a clone is selected, and the personality download is complete, the former clone will instantly be elevated to “human status.”

42. Body Part & Limb Makers – The Organ Agents listed above will quickly find themselves out of work as soon as we figure out how to efficiently grow and mass produce our own organs from scratch.

43. Memory Augmentation Therapists – Entertainment is all about the great memories it creates. Creating a better grade of memories can dramatically change who we are and pave the way for an entirely new class of humans.

44. Time Brokers – Time Bank Traders – Where do you go when you run out of time? Naturally, to the time-bank, and take out a time-loan.

45. Space-Based Power System Designers – At some point, the burning of earth’s natural resources for power will become a thing of the past. Space-based systems will capture and transmit power far more efficiently than anything currently in existence.

46. Geoengineers – Weather Control Specialists – We are moving past the age of meteorology and climatology to one where the true power-brokers will wield the forces of nature.

47. Plant Educators – An intelligent plant will be capable of re-engineering itself to meet the demands of tomorrow’s marketplace. Plant educators will not work with lesson plans or PowerPoint presentations, but the learning process will be even more effective. More details here.

48. Nano-Weapons Specialists – Many of the weapons of the future will be too small to be seen by the human eye. And naturally, these will be the most dangerous. More details here.

49. Lip Designers – If you could have any lips in the world, what would they look like?

50. Mass Energy Storage Developers – As a society, we have become very good at generating electricity, but are still terrible at storing it from one day to the next. Once mass energy storage systems are developed and installed, our total energy needs will drop precipitously.

51. Earthquake Forecasters – Everything we know about the inside of the earth has been developed through indirect evidence. We have no maps of the center of the earth. We have no accurate diagrams, no understanding of motion, fluidity, or changes happening with any degree of accuracy. While scientists are developing skills to work with nanoscale precision on the earth’s surface, the best we can muster below the surface is blindfolded guesswork done with 100-mile precision. What we don’t know is literally killing us – over 226,000 killed in 2010 alone. But that will change over time as we begin to understand the inner working of the earth and accurately forecast when the next big quakes are about to hit. More details here.

52. “Heavy Air” Engineers – Compressed air is useful in a wide variety of ways. However, we have yet to figure out how to compress streams of air as they pass through our existing atmosphere. Once we do, it will create untold opportunity for non-surface based housing and transportation system, weather control, and other kinds of experimentation.

53. Robot Polishers – If we are going to have robots, they will invariably need to be polished.

54. Amnesia Surgeons – Doctors who are skilled in removing bad memories or destructive behavior.

55. Executioners for Virus-Builders – In the future, virus-builders who get caught will have a choice. They can either go to the electric chair, or spend some quality time with the Amnesia Surgeon.

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Final Thoughts

The jobs and occupations listed above are just scratching the surface. This list is intended to help stretch your imagination and start you down a path of imagining your own future.

But I’d love to hear your thoughts. What am I missing? Where have I gone off the reservation and missed the big picture entirely? Are there better names for these professions? And most importantly, how can someone today prepare himself or herself for the changes to come?

Yes, this column includes far more questions than answers. But when it comes to understanding the future, it all begins with asking the right questions.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future – the book that changes everything

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