It’s easy to spot signs of desperation in people’s eyes. With unemployment rates at persistently high levels and young people unable to find jobs from one year to the next, we have become a society seething with anxiety.

I often get asked if we are headed into an era of 50% unemployment because we’ve automated all of the jobs out of existence. There are two parts to the answer.

Every time we download one of dozens of “level apps” on our smartphone, we eliminate the need to own this tool. Levels have traditionally been a tool made of metal with a small elliptical-shaped glass tube for accurately measuring horizontal balance. But the app is far easier. It eliminates the need to produce the metal and glass components, assemble and package the product, ship components halfway around the world, and retail stores no longer need to carry this line of products.

So yes, we are automating tons of jobs out of existence and we will continue to do so. Every downloadable app has the potential of eliminating small fractional jobs. But cumulatively, this amounts to millions of positions around the world.

The second part of the question, however, is a bit more complicated. “Have we simply run out of work?” And the answer is, of course not!

In fact, we will never run out of work. But there aren’t always jobs associated with the work that needs to be done. And that’s where we find ourselves today – plenty of work, not enough jobs.

Here are some thoughts on how we can escape the downward employment spiral and 24 future industries that will lead to an era of super employment!

The Crux of the Problem: “People-less” Wealth Creators

The purpose of business is to create wealth. Similar to how our blood supply is the primary circulatory system for sustaining our life, the flow of money is the primary mechanism for keeping a business alive.

Money that is used to fuel a manufacturing business with 10,000 employees and create $100 million in revenue each year is treated the same as an investment business with no employees to produce a similar $100 million revenue stream each year.

In fact, “people-less” businesses are far lower risk, making the routing of money to these kinds of entities much more appealing.

We have created systems that place people-intensive businesses on an even playing field with businesses that employ no people, and that’s why so many potential job creators have been sidelined.

Without the right checks and balances, banks are not able to justify lending money to the riskier catalytic innovators. It’s far easier to make money off of money rather than labor-intensive work.

As a result, many of our best and brightest entrepreneurs have been relegated to small lifestyle business operations with little ability to grow.

The solution? We can either penalize the negative or incentivize the positive. Most governments are quick to use taxes as a disincentive. But another option may be to create a system to multiply investments into job-creating businesses with low interest matching funds, based on the number of people employed. This kind of approach would instantly shift investment dollars towards the labor-building side of the equation.

Catalytic Innovation

Unlike “disruptive innovation” that disrupts an existing industry, “catalytic innovations” have the ability to produce entirely new industries.

Any technology that becomes a catalyzing agent for opening doorways into a world never before seen, falls into this broad new category of catalytic innovation.

Examples of catalytic innovations in the past included:

  • Photography
  • Automobiles
  • Electricity
  • Airplanes
  • Telephones

Each technology went on to form a massive new industry that never existed previously.

Naturally everyone is interested in knowing what innovations are on the verge of creating massive new industries, so I’ll mention a few.

24 Future Industries primed for creating the jobs of the future

Future jobs are being created every hour of every day in the minds of visionary thinkers. But only the true catalytic innovators are creating entire new industries.

Many traditional occupations like accounting, management, and sale will be reworked to fit the context of these new industries. Other more creative positions like wizard of light bulb moments, brand warrior, digital overlord, mobile sensei, code monkey, derma-pigmentation technician, overseer of order, godfather of talent, beervangelist, or number ninja are creative occupational titles designed around the new breed of skills needed to succeed in these businesses.

Here are a number of both emerging and rapid growth industries that will be employing millions of people in the coming years.

1.) Atmospheric Water Harvesting – The earth’s atmosphere is a far more elegant water distribution system than rivers, reservoirs, and underground waterways. Our current ground-based systems involve pipes and pumping stations that are expensive to operate and maintain, and easily contaminated. Since we all depend on the rains to provide the water we need, what if we could extract this rain at the very time and place we need it? On-demand water harvesters are being developed by a new breed of inventors wanting to tackle this exact problem.

2.) Commercial Drone Industry – The U.S. Congress has mandated the FAA develop a plan to incorporate drones into national airspace by Sept. 30, 2015. Many in this new industry are chomping at the bit to get started. According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicles International, once drones get okayed for the national air space, the first 3 years will produce $13.6 billion in economic activity along with 34,000 new manufacturing jobs. But more than just manufacturing, there will be a need for drone pilots, drone farming specialists, drone security, drone data analysts, drone mosquito killers, and much more. China is moving faster than we are on this one.

3.) Software Developers – With a programming universe comprised of over 8,000 different languages, dated languages like Fortran, Jovial, and Cobol that lie buried inside corporate IT departments are coming back to haunt their host companies. As an example, the day-to-day operations at the Mellon Bank of New York are based on 112,500 Cobol programs – 343 million lines of code – that run core-banking functions. Mellon Bank is not alone. Thousands of other companies have similar issues. The ticking time bomb behind this problem is that the people familiar with this code are nearing retirement age. For companies that wait until that the institutional knowledge is gone, the costs for converting over may be as much as ten times higher than it would have been beforehand. There is now a massive push to teach coding as a fundamental skill like math, reading, and writing. Developers will be our chief innovators in the future. The push for new talent is driving salaries well into the six-figure range.

4.) Mobile Apps – When Apple introduced their iPhone software developer’s kit on March 6, 2008, no one had a clue about the tectonic plate-shifting nature of this announcement. In just a few short years the number of apps has mushroomed into a force of nature, radically shifting how products are created, and more importantly, how people in the physical world interface with information in the digital world. With over 2 million apps currently available for download on smartphones, next generation apps will be for smart shoes, smart homes, smart guitars, and much more.

5.) Our Trillion-Sensor Future – In the last six years, we’ve gone from 10 million sensors—in things like the Nintendo Wii and iPhones—to 3.5 billion. This is why Janusz Bryzek, an executive at Fairchild, organized the Trillion Sensor Summit, which took place recently in Palo Alto. Bryzek is projecting 1 trillion sensors by 2020 and 100 trillion sensors in the mid 2030s along with literally millions of new primary and secondary jobs to manage this emerging sector.

6.) 3D Printing – 3D printing was recently named by Goldman Sachs as one of eight technologies destined to creatively destroy how we do business. Currently making inroads into everything from pharmaceutical drugs, to food, to antibodies and new life forms, to clothing and shoes, it’s projected to reach $3.1 billion worldwide by 2016 and $5.2 billion by 2020. As an industry making inroads in thousands of different businesses simultaneously, former Wired editor Chris Anderson is famously quoted as saying, “3D printing will be bigger than the Internet.”

7.) Cancer Immunotherapy – Immunotherapy will train your immune system to attack cancer cells, giving it an advantage over traditional cancer therapies like chemo, which can kill healthy cells, and “targeted” therapy, against which cancer cells often develop resistance. Tumor response rates are usually in the mid-20% range but can get up to 50% with immunotherapy. The market potential is projected to be $10-15 billion by 2025, with lung cancer being the primary focus.

8.) LEDs – Industrial-scale light emitting diodes (LEDs) enjoy three main advantages over regular light sources: energy savings of up to 85%, a longer lifetime, and being more easily programmable. LED sales will reach $11 billion by 2015, and will see a compound annual growth rate of about 40% over the next five years in the industrial and commercial market. From a lighting perspective its expected to represent 36 percent of lumen-hour sales on the general illumination market by 2020, and 74 percent by 2030

9.) Big Data – Social media, blogs, web browsing, and firms’ security measures are generating enormous quantities of data, and it needs to be stored somewhere. The overall market currently stands at $11 billion, with a projected 32% compound annual growth rate over the next five years. According to McKinsey and Company, “the United States alone will face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with analytical expertise and 1.5 million managers and analysts with the skills to understand and make decisions based on the analysis of big data.”

10.) Internet of Things – Seventy-five billion is the number of devices that Morgan Stanley has calculated will be connected to the Internet of Things by 2020. That’s 9.4 devices for every one of the 8 billion people that will be on earth in only seven years. IBM even created a starter kit to help people get started.

11.) Natural Gas – Compressed and liquefied natural gas is increasingly being used in industrial and commercial fleets. So far penetration remains relatively confined to about 3% of all vehicles. However, by 2020 natural gas engines will comprise 10-15% of total truck sales, for a penetration rate of 20-30% of our over-the-road hauling fleets. And that’s only part of the story.

12.) Wind Power – Wind energy today still only accounts for a small percentage of global electricity production even though we have seen many more wind farms popping up over the last few years. Wind power currently generates 2.6 percent of the world’s electricity, but according to a new report from the International Energy Agency, that number will grow significantly over the next few decades.

13.) Solar Power – Solar PV was invented nearly 60 years ago and has been growing ever since. As an industry it now employs nearly 120,000 Americans. Driven by both state and national incentives, dropping prices, and a constant stream of new innovations, solar is hot, and it will become even hotter in the future.

14.) Mass Energy Storage – We are now entering the early growth stages of what will surely become a huge global industry – energy storage. It will both support and compete with conventional generation, transmission and distribution systems. Over the coming decade as the industry evolves, it will lead to new business models and the creation of new companies that make, apply and operate storage assets to help the grid work more reliably and cost-effectively, while decreasing unwanted environmental impacts. Full report here.

15.) Micro Grid Conversion – Along with massive new power storage systems, the electric utilities world is about to begin the transition from national grids to micro grids. This will open up a huge number of opportunities along the way. First, micro grids will need to be planned, set up, and prove they’re self-sufficient and sustainable. Second, micro grids will begin disconnecting from the national grid. And third, we will begin dismantling the national grid, a multi-decade process creating tens of thousands of jobs along the way.

16.) Hyperspeed Transportation Systems – With its ability to travel upwards of 4,000 mph, ET3 founder Daryl Oster calls it, “space travel on earth,” but it also has the potential to be the world’s largest infrastructure project. Vacuum tube transport is not just a great idea; it’s becoming a moral imperative. Ships and planes are polluting our oceans and skies faster than nature can clean it up. This is a solution that will not only solve all those problems; it will create over 100 million jobs along the way. And, most importantly, it will pay for itself.

17.) Contour Crafted Houses – Many people think of contour crafting as 3D printing for houses, but Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis from the University of South California sees it as much more. In addition to it’s ability to print an entire house in less than a day, it can be used to eliminate slums, help rebuild areas after a natural disasters, and even build large buildings and luxury homes with custom architectural features that can be changed with only a few clicks of a mouse.

18.) Driverless Everything – Our dependence on cars has been growing. In 1960, about 41 million workers commuted by private automobile. But by 2009, that number has grown to a whopping 120 million. The average time spent driving each day, roughly one hour, is rarely productive since we’re closely focused on driving and little else. Four companies — Audi, Mercedes, BMW and Volvo — will have automated cars in the market in the next 12 months. Over time this will expand far beyond cars to trucks, buses, taxis, limos, and every conceivable form of delivery vehicle. Driverless cars will be every bit as disruptive as the invention of the automobile itself.

19.) Bio-Factories – Based on using living systems, “bio-factories” represent a new process for creating substances that are either too tricky or too expensive to grow in nature or to make with petrochemicals. The rush to develop bio-factories as a means for production not only promises to revolutionize the chemical industry but also transform the economy. Hundreds of products are already in the pipeline.

20.) Micro-Colleges – The systems used to create colleges centuries ago seems justifiably primitive by today’s standards. Learning formulas for nearly every degree are based on hours, one of the least important considerations when it comes to assessing talent. Colleges today cost far too much, and they take far too long. Micro-Colleges are any form of concentrated post-secondary education oriented around the minimum entry point into a particular profession. With literally millions of people needing to shift careers every year, and the long drawn out cycles of traditional colleges being a poor solution for time-crunched rank-and-file displaced workers, we are seeing a massive new opportunity arising for short-term, pre-apprenticeship training.

21.) Smart HomesThe programmable home is still in its early stages but it’s gathering strength, driven by three complementary trends: first and foremost, the smartphone revolution; second, improved standards for low-power, inexpensive and highly reliable wireless communications; and finally, ever-decreasing barriers to invention due to increased automation of manufacturing technologies. These three forces are converging to create a tipping point that will lead to mass penetration of connected devices in homes during the next ten years.

22.) Senior Living – With almost 10,000 Americans turning 65 each day, the number of seniors who need specialized housing will only increase the need for more options and better solutions. A recent study by HUD concluded there are over 1 million seniors currently fall within the guidelines for “worst case housing needs” and increasingly more seniors are falling below the poverty level. Most affordable senior apartments have long waiting lists and new inventory in this category is not being created nearly fast enough to keep pace with demand.

23.) Home Delivery – The same-day delivery space is getting pretty crowded. Amazon, Google, and eBay offer local, same-day deliver services (in limited markets), as do startups like PostMates, Deliv, TaskRabbit and WunWun. As same-day delivery shifts from a premium price to the same price as standard, demand will increase, volume will increase and costs will come down even further. But here’s the twist: Retailers who have retained their national chain of stores and built a web/mobile presence are actually in the box seats. Stores like Sears and Wal-Mart that already have locations within five miles of 95% of the buying public with their brick and mortar stores will have a huge advantage.

24.) 24-Hour Cities – As we continue down the path of automation, virtually every city will have 24-hour convenience stores, 24-hour libraries, 24-hour banks, 24-hour churches, 24-hour schools, 24-hour movie theaters, 24-hour bars and restaurants, and even 24-hour shopping centers. The same machines that will be replacing retail workers will also be creating new jobs for 24-hour business operations.

Final Thoughts

The list above is just scratching the surface. When we automate jobs out of existence, that doesn’t mean there is no work left to do. We are freeing up human capital, and this human capital can be put to work creating thousands of new industries.

It will, however, require a whole new level of system thinking to unleash this pent up ambition.

Tomorrow’s history books will show us that we are immersed in patterns that are meant to be broken, based on cycles waiting to be transformed.

But I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and other future industries. What have I missed and how do we go about unlocking their true potential faster?


By Futurist Thomas Frey

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




28 Responses to “Have we reached peak employment? 24 future industries that will lead to an era of super employment!”

Comments List

  1. Jay Swartz

    We live in interesting times. One notable gap that touches on all of these industries is robotics. While in many cases they won't need to have a human-like form, they will be doing an increasing amount of work, in all of these industries and more.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Jay, Thanks for pointing that out. Yes, robots will eliminate lots of jobs, but they will also create many more. (Driverless cars and flying drones are both forms of robotics.) They may eliminate more than they create in the short run, but they also increase our capabilities. And added capabilities will eventually lead to new industries. One of the biggest problems is that investing in workerless businesses is treated the same as investing in labor-intensive companies. It ends up being a systems problem. Thomas Frey
  2. George Smith

    Virtually all of these areas will require expertise in security and protection especially given their inter-connections. I can imagine almost all of them being redirected to nefarious means by anarchists and terrorists. System and network security is easily as large an area of growth and opportunity.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      George, You're right, safety and security will be huge concerns with many of these technologies. As an example, the same flying drone used to deliver pizza can also be used to deliver bombs and poison. Safety and security jobs will be a key part of these industries. My sense is that with the right systems, its all manageable, both it won't be easy. Thomas Frey
  3. bob smith

    All these new areas of technology are interesting to be sure, and it just goes to show how the future is bright for young people today. But one major career has been blatantly omitted, and it is an especially important one in light of the fact that every year we are adding thousands of new workers to the field. I refer of course to: burrito production.
  4. Charles Sorensson

    Extraordinary article with global social repercussions... and certainly only scratching the surface. Take mining of genomic data - what will plants of the future do when we really understand how they tick? Take the phenomenal power of primitive microbes, not just to produce all types of chemicals but also their role in mammalian health, sources of new vaccines, environmental remediation. Google the article "Vietnam Releases Dengue-Blocking Mosquito" - absolutely fascinating inter-organismal interactions with real impacts on human health at low cost too! What about the industry of chemicals that stimulate muscle growth, brain efficiency, anti-aging etc? Look in any direction, opportunities abound. How more fundamental does it get when you can get a world-class university lecturer to speak to you for almost no cost off a micro computer wrist watch? And the ability to work more efficiently from home, maybe reducing your work week? Surely other readers of this blog could list a hundred things most of us miss that will change our world over the next 20 years!
  5. Christina

    Hallo Thomas, Thinking very hard on how to unlock future potential faster. Thanks for the well written article. A yes for driverless cars. A yes for atmoshperic water harvesting too.
  6. Gavin

    Fewer jobs is going to be a good thing as long as there is a strong safety net or minimum income for everybody. At the moment though fewer jobs is a bad thing but we are going through a major transition. The most important thing to people is labour for money but intelligent machines like self driving cars, intelligent customer service telephone software as operators, and of course humanoid robots will replace jobs. I don't buy futuristic jobs just making work only humans can do in 30 years. While hours worked will go down, there will still be work for humans just less of it. Giving people free stuff seems to not go down very well in the USA but it will be the only solution to growing unrest. The good news is economic growth will be astounding. Currently we increase world GDP every 15 years but with a reinforcing positive feedback loop the economy could double every year in 30 years. This exponential for 10 years gives a GDP growth of 1000 times. So for example people in 2050 will have production 1000 times bigger than people in 2040. Why will humanoid robots cause this incredible explosion of growth? Positive feedback loop. Well more robots working 24/7 will mine more material from Mega Mines, they are very deep mines run like termite colonies with million of productive machines. This will make solar come down in cost for example by having cheaper materials which in turn produces cheaper energy. Material costs come down due to extra supply because companies want extra money, this incentive gets them to produce and sell more. So now with cheaper energy and material more robots are sold cheaper, allowing for more and cheaper materials and energy. Positive feedback loop. Cheaper Materials- Cheaper Energy- Cheaper Labour (robots)- Include solar system mining for resources, and there is no reason why everyone is not wealthy. People on the whole will be free to be creative a lot more since they are not filling in holes they have just dug, which is my impression of most jobs if they can be automated. Sure not everyone will be an Einstein or intellectual giant but so what if they are happy, there value to society may come in unexpected ways and a small contribution will add up when there are billions. Just my thoughts when we have more than enough to share.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Gavin, Thanks for your thoughts on this. My sense is that our automation actually makes us far more capable and we will create many new industries as a result. While we've automated many jobs out of existence, we now see signs that we're beginning to over compensate and we'll have far more jobs in the future than we know what to do with. Hence the phrase "super employment." Thomas Frey
  7. Ivan Bajer

    As in 1775 with Watt engine, the next big invention will come from conections between water-food and energy nexus, water in its holistic quality is definitive factor of change
  8. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Paul M Bauer</a>

    What if we start with the premise that the purpose of business is not to create wealth (material abundance--many have already achieved that) but rather to create value (well-being--something many of even the wealthy struggle for)? How would that affect the list of rapid and emerging growth industries?
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Paul, You're asking an interesting question. My sense is that most entrepreneurs want to create value, but the lure of easy money often has a way of muting any loftier intentions. Just stating it as a new premise won't work. So how do we rework our systems to emphasize "value creation" over "wealth creation?" After we solve that problem, then naturally the next question is "who's values" should it be based on? Some people think drugs and prostitution are true value creators, but others will disagree. So I guess I'm left with far more questions than answers. Thomas Frey
  9. Jennifer

    Great food for thought, Tom, thanks. Just a few days ago I was talking with colleagues about the changes in higher education, specifically implications of online ed vs bricks and mortar, and how this is already impacting the type of person hired to teach. Online, of course, is a very different delivery, and requires different skills and personality, a different approach to writing curriculum and more, which implies at some point teacher certification/teacher's college is going to change to accommodate the need for different workers. It's not a super industry as you mention, but to me, fit right in with what you've said about which are the industries to watch, and how will all the other related jobs/industries need to change as well.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Gijs, Yes, we are automating tons of jobs out of existence, but at the same time, we're increasing human capabilities. This in turn will result in far more jobs in the future. Thomas Frey
  10. Gavin

    I agree with you Mr Frey that there will be many new industries or expansion of current industries, but are you saying total person work hours will increase or people will have more career choices? Are you expecting people to work less hours, that is 20 hours becoming the new full time? I can see having many more physical R and D scientists though because current world GDP expenditure is appalling at around 2%, especially since science is the only thing stopping us falling into despair.
  11. Gavin

    In regards to your comment to me saying "we’ll have far more jobs in the future than we know what to do with. Hence the phrase “super employment.”" Don't we have that now? There is lots to be done, we are just not doing it. Are there not now more jobs than we could fill, building infrastructure, looking after the environment, research, etc? Is the problem being we simply don't have the resources for full employment? Will this really change when there are more efficient machines to do the work?
  12. <a href='http://-' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Theo van Bruchem</a>

    Please take the suggestions of martin ford' s book- lights in the tunnel - into consideration!
  13. garyd

    It seems presently that service jobs have grown faster than any other jobs. Most require little formal education and the skills needed are minimal. The human interaction during the course of the day is what makes these jobs a bit different from factory jobs probably making them more interesting. It does seem that a large percentage of people are adverse to making a concerted effort to learn, college or otherwise, when most of us still don't know what we WANT to do. It seems helping people figure out what they WANT to do is the crux of the problem. It appears that MOOC's and Khan Academy are starting to look at what people are good at/interested in as well as finding education methods that are the most suitable for each individual. Apathy is something that is a huge stumbling block for most of us.
  14. Luis Rodriguez

    Mr. Frey You did not mention garbage and the need to get the rid off it. Several initiatives are under way around the world with lots of opposition in certain areas. Production of energy, new replacement products, and even stronger medicines are probably in the future that will help our world, reduce poverty and create new jobs.
  15. Micael Mendes

    What do you see as the future of medicine? Also what is the future look like for doctors and radiologists? And how about Health Management? Are there any books you would recommend for me to better understand future of careers in medicine?
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Michael, One book I'd recommend is "Cell" by Robin Cook. While its a science fiction book with lots of drama, it gives a fascinating view of how technology is destined to take over many of the labor-intensive aspects of healthcare. Also, take a look at a recent column I wrote titled - "Eight Reason Why Future Computers will make better Decisions than Doctors" - Hope this helps, Thomas Frey
  16. <a href='http://Website' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Sam</a>

    Great article! 1.So are these all categories listed where actual human beings will be working with robots and be employed as humans? 2.Also, would you say areas of Public Health, Social Work and Counseling and Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling shall stay safe and immune from robots with humans always working in such? 3. What would you say about English As A Second Language Teachers Abroad in Future? 4. What area for actual humans would you say will always be in demand especially in international humanitarian work like the UN, American Red Cross, Peace Corps, etc? Thanks!

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