German industrial giant, Siemens, recently hosted an Innovation Day that I participated in at their Chicago design center to give thought leaders in the U.S. a first look at many of the cutting edge technologies they’re working on. The topics they covered ranged from autonomous vehicles, to drone taxis, electric aviation, digital twins, agripods, VR, robotics, microgrids, energy storage, AI-powered manufacturing, and the overall potential of a digitized value chain.

All of these topics, which have been at the top of my research list, offered tremendous insight in the world ahead. But more than insight into the technology, they give us a glimpse of what some of our jobs will be in the future.

If you walked into an average 1950s era household, you would see much that you would recognize, including home appliances, a TV and an automobile. On the other hand, if you had to live in a 1900′s era home, with no running water or electricity, you would struggle to survive.

Now we’re entering a new era of innovation that is likely to be far more impactful than the last wave of innovation. Much like the computer revolution was built on top of electricity, the new era will use computing to drive advancement in other fields, such as genomics, nanotechnology and robotics.

This new era has already begun. We are learning to both manipulate individual atoms and molecules as well as to work with massive amounts of data to create machines that can do jobs previously thought to be uniquely human. Still, much like our predecessors in 1918, we struggle to fully grasp what the impact will be.

Glossing over interim steps

Like most people, I have a habit of glossing over many of the interim steps necessary to make the engineering advances that seem obvious.

As example, the first experiments on driverless vehicles actually started in the 1920’s and researchers then envisioned that someday all cars would be able to drive themselves. But this leap in advancements has taken nearly 100 years so far, and we’re still not there.

Similarly, physicist Dennis Gabor first worked on the idea of holography and three-dimensional displays in 1947. While it has been easy to envision a lifelike 3D display, the engineering needed to create one has been far more complicated than first imagined. Seventy years later we still haven’t achieved it.

For these reasons it has been very easy to under-predict the time necessary for change to happen, and also easy to under-predict the full scope of the resulting impact.

Today, we find ourselves competing in a networked world where the key to competitive advantage is no longer the sum of all efficiencies, but the sum of all connections. Strategy, therefore, must be focused on widening and deepening linkages to access ecosystems of technology, talent, and information, and the talent piece of this equation should never be underestimated.

It’s become common to think that if a job disappears that it’s simply gone and nothing will fill the void. But that’s not true.

With all the headlines predicting jobs being automated out of existence, as robots and artificial intelligence take over our jobs, we begin imagining delusional timelines and unrealistic consequences for what lies ahead.

The first misconception is that robots, automation, and A.I. destroy jobs, which is not true. It does kill parts of jobs and eliminates the needs for certain skills, but entire jobs are far more complex than that.

In the short to medium term, the main effect of automation will not necessarily be eliminating jobs, but redefining them.

As example, ATM machines did replace many of the tasks that bank tellers performed, but not all of them. As a result, ATMs enabled tellers to be more efficient doing other things.

Before we start a discussion of what the most common jobs will be, let’s take a quick look at the categorization problem.

Siemens electric aircraft demonstration at Innovation Day 2018. 

Most common jobs today

Defining jobs is a fuzzy art.

I spent quite a bit of time looking at the list of today’s most common jobs below, and found it very confusing. For example, many retail sales people also work as cashiers and many secretary/admin workers also do bookkeeping.

Additionally confusing, a registered nurse in an ER setting does vastly different work than one in home health, but they’re both RNs. Similarly, a patent attorney does vastly different work than a criminal defense attorney, yet they’re both lawyers.

At the same time many part-timers are working multiple gigs simultaneously – morning barista, janitor by day, and Uber in between.

Future jobs will have professions that bridge technology, but it will be the technology that is the primary job generator, not the profession.

Here are the top 50 most common jobs in the U.S. today.

  1. Retail salesperson – 4,155,190
  2. Cashiers – 3,354,170
  3. Office clerks – 2,789,590
  4. Combined food preparation and serving workers – 2,692,170
  5. Registered nurses – 2,601,336
  6. Waiters and waitresses – 2,244,480
  7. Customer service reps – 2,146,120
  8. Janitors and cleaners – 2,058,610
  9. Freight, stock, and hand material mover laborers – 2,024,180
  10. Secretaries and admin assistants – 1,841,020
  11. Stock clerks and order fillers – 1,795,970
  12. General and operation managers – 1,708,080
  13. Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks – 1,675,250
  14. Elementary school teachers – 1,485,600
  15. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers – 1,466,740
  16. Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants – 1,451,090
  17. Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives – 1,367,210
  18. First-line supervisors of office and administrative support workers – 1,359,950
  19. Teacher assistants – 1,249,380
  20. Bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists – 1,222,770
  21. Maintenance and repair workers – 1,217,820
  22. First-line supervisors of retail sales workers – 1,172,070
  23. Executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants – 1,132,070
  24. Accountants and auditors – 1,072,490
  25. Secondary school teachers – 1,053,140
  26. Security guards – 1,006,880
  27. Receptionists and information clerks – 997,080
  28. Business operations specialists – 993,980
  29. Home health aides – 982,840
  30. Team assemblers – 928,170
  31. Restaurant Cooks – 901,310
  32. Maids and housekeeping cleaners – 865,960
  33. Landscaping and groundskeeping workers – 829,350
  34. Food preparation workers – 802,650
  35. Light truck or delivery service drivers – 780,260
  36. Construction laborers – 777,700
  37. First-line supervisors of food preparation and serving workers – 773,400
  38. Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses – 730,290
  39. Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks – 687,850
  40. Personal care aides – 686,030
  41. Packers and packagers – 676,870
  42. Middle school teachers – 655,090
  43. Police and sheriff’s patrol officers – 644,300
  44. Carpenters – 620,410
  45. Childcare workers – 611,280
  46. Automotive service technicians and mechanics – 587,510
  47. Computer support specialists – 579,270
  48. Lawyers – 561,350
  49. Tellers – 556,310
  50. First-line supervisors of production and operating workers – 555,260
Tomorrow’s workforce will be driven by technology, not professions

20 common jobs of 2040

Once again, future jobs will have professions that bridge technology, but it will be the technology that is the primary job generator, not the profession.

For this reason, the following list of common jobs will be framed around common technologies like drones, robots, and blockchain as opposed to professional categorizations like nurse, teacher, or engineer.

Keep in mind we’re automating tasks out of existence, not entire jobs. As our tasks disappear, new tasks will get created, and jobs, work, and entire industries will be redefined.

1.) Robot Sherpas – Robots today tend to be good at one or two things. So far we haven’t seen the iPhone equivalent in robotics where people can build apps and the robot is capable of many things. That will happen well before 2040.

However, smart robots will still require an entire ecosystem of support staff to operate at peak efficiency. In much the same way a single passenger plane creates employment for dozens of people (pilots, flight attendants, ground crew, reservationists, ticket agents, etc.), our most versatile robots will require a team of support workers to optimize their performance.

  • Robot maintenance
  • Robot monitoring
  • Robot operation techs
  • Robot suppliers
  • Robot programmers
  • Robot UI/UX experts
  • Robot ethicists
  • Robot business developers

2.) Data Junkies – In many respects, data is the new oil. As a seemingly unlimited resource with the potential to create millions of new products, data will spawn hundreds of new job categories.

  • Data-catters – sourcing new forms of data, acquiring rights, licensing to users
  • Data detective
  • Data frackers
  • Data analytics
  • Data monitors
  • Data ethicists
  • Data trust officers
  • Data brokers

3.) Drone command crews – By 2040, large fleets of drones will be very common, as we will have surpassed the first billion-drone mark in the early 2030s. Drones will come in every possible shape and size, and since risks are high and so many things can go wrong, we will see many drone-related positions created for monitoring payloads, systems and optimizing traffic flow.

  • Drone command center operators
  • Drone taxi ground crew
  • Traffic flow optimizers
  • Drone maintenance and repair
  • Aerial security teams
  • Drone designers
  • Drone programmers
  • Drone salespeople

4.) Personal health maestros – Yes, we will still have nurses and doctors in the future, but most of the job growth in the health industry will be surrounding the digitization of personal health and the optimization of human performance.

  • Anti aging practitioners
  • Brain augmentationists
  • Nurses
  • Aging assistants
  • Gene sequencers
  • Epigenetic therapists
  • Brain neurostimulation professionals
  • Genetic modification designers and engineers

5.) AI-Enhanced Freelancers – Over the past few decades we have transitioned from a world where information was scarce and only the experts had access to it, to a time where information is plentiful but only the experts know what to pay attention to. Before 2040 there will be a similar transformation as we begin adding AI enhancements to our bodies and minds where only those skilled in the craft will be able to fully leverage the AI turbocharging we add to our capability mix.

  • AI-enhanced freelance coaches and trainers
  • AI-enhanced writers
  • AI-enhanced musicians
  • AI-enhanced artists
  • AI-enhanced quantum programmers
  • AI-enhanced accountants
  • AI-enhanced cyber security experts
  • AI-enhanced AI experts

6.) Driverless ground crews – Just because the driver is gone doesn’t mean there’s no room for humans. In fact, just the opposite is true. Yes, it will eventually be possible to automate many of these positions out of business, but it will require thousands of iterative developments for increasingly narrow niche edge cases. In many situations we simply reach the point of diminishing returns where it’s far cheaper and easier to employ a person instead of building a robot to handle a situation that only occurs once in every million-car trips.

  • Command center operators
  • Payment and accounting department
  • Circulation engineers
  • Maintenance and repair
  • Cleaning crews
  • Traffic flow analyzers
  • Charging station installers
  • On-board experience designers

7.) Blockchain architects – Blockchain in all its forms and derivations represents an exciting new industry that will overlay virtually every other industry. In many respects, this is virgin territory and we have yet to discover the true limits of blockchain.

  • Blockchain regulators
  • Blockchain engineers
  • Blockchain designers
  • Blockchain UI/UX experts
  • Blockchain cloud managers
  • Blockchain system analysts
  • Blockchain product managers
  • Blockchain business development gurus

8.) 3D printing fabricators – Over the next two decades 3D printing will grow exponentially in speed, precision, and in the kinds of material that it can be used. This will open the doors to a wide variety of support personnel, as each machine becomes a major profit center.

  • Digital house architects
  • Contour crafters – 3D house builders
  • Material scientists
  • 3D product designers
  • 3D printed pill pharmacies
  • 3D printed organs, limbs, and prosthetics
  • 3D printing specialists for reconstructive surgery
  • 3D food printers

9.) Cryptocurrency – While the existing banking/finance industries will still employ a huge number of people, the traditional money world will be shrinking as automation causes most of the branch banking outlets to disappear. At the same time we will see over 50% of national currencies replaced by cryptocurrencies. Most of the growth in the financial sector will take place in professions surrounding cryptocurrency.

  • Cryptocurrency regulators
  • Cryptocurrency bankers
  • Cryptocurrency transaction specialists
  • Cryptocurrency wealth managers
  • Cryptocurrency insurers
  • Cryptocurrency miners
  • Cryptocurrency exchange operators
  • Cryptocurrency analysts

10.) Sensor system architects and curators – By 2040 the data universe will be driven by over 100 trillion sensors. As the MEMs and sensor industry uncovers innovative ways to sense and monitor different aspects of the world around us, the number of workers needed to bridge the interface between data and our physical world will also grow exponentially.

  • Sensor designers
  • Sensor installers
  • Sensor tailors and garment creators
  • Sensor data modelers
  • Sensor data transmission optimizers
  • Sensor signal engineers
  • Sensor architects
  • Sensor troubleshooters

11.) Space tech ground crews – Space X is causing industry experts to rethink time tables for the entire space industry. By 2040, we will have already begun to colonize Mars and space tourism rocket launches will be a daily occurrence. Similar to the airline industry, every launch will require a large cast of people employed in hundreds of different roles.

  • Space mission planners
  • Space launch management
  • Space launch prep, cargo prep, meteorologists
  • Space command traffic analyzers
  • Space command guidance monitors
  • Space experience designers
  • Space impact minimizers
  • Space ethics experts
Asteroid mining will become a huge industry by 2040

12.) Asteroid miners – Asteroids are filled with all the ingredients necessary to construct things in space as well as material that can be taken back to earth. These include gold, iridium, silver, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium and tungsten for transport back to Earth; and iron, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, aluminum, and titanium for construction. As launch costs continue to drop, activity in this space will grow quickly.

  • Asteroid scouts and surveyors
  • Asteroid mining ground crews
  • Asteroid mining launch specialists
  • Asteroid mining bot operators
  • Asteroid material scientists
  • Asteroid transport operators
  • Asteroid-based smelting operators
  • Asteroid analytics data managers

13.) Fusion power plant builders – With the first fusion power plant coming online in 2040, the global power industry will be making plans to build literally thousands of new fusion power plants to replace our aging power infrastructure. Even though it will still be a fledgling industry, the hiring and prep work will have already begun.

  • Fusion plant designers
  • Fusion engineers
  • Fusion system integrators
  • Fusion micro grid experts
  • Fusion plant contractors
  • Fusion plant architects
  • Fusion in space planners
  • Fusion project manager

14.) CRISPR, biohacking, and programmable healthcare gurus – By 2040 we will be able to program our way to better health and genetically cure most diseases. Most will be wearing a huge range of sensors offering real-time monitoring. Longevity will rise, with many living well beyond 100. Children born in 2040 will essentially have a blank slate when it comes to life expectancy. With gene therapy, stem cell and nano-scale medicine, barring an accident or fatal disease, we cease to worry about dying, and look much younger as we age.

  • Algorithmic health providers
  • Algorithmic health researchers
  • Algorithmic dietitians
  • CRISPR biotechnicians
  • CRISPR engineers
  • CRISPR auditors
  • Biomanufacturing experts
  • Biomanufacturing organ designers

15.) Tube transportation infrastructure builders – By 2040 we will have begun building a global tube transportation network, which will commonly be referred to as the world’s largest infrastructure project. Tube transportation will employ countless millions of people in both the construction and operation of the global tube system.

  • Tube network designers
  • Tube network builders
  • Tube network command center
  • Tube network safety engineers
  • Tube network operators
  • Tube network traffic optimizers
  • Tube network maintenance and repair
  • Tube network janitors

16.) Quantum tech gurus – By 2040 we will have made the transition from bits and bytes to qubits. Qubits are the standard units used to measure quantum information. With quantum computing, all traditional encryption systems become hackable, and all users will have been forced to upgrade to quantum level encryption long before 2040.

  • Quantum computing programmers
  • Quantum data analyzers
  • Quantum level privacy monitors & managers
  • Quantum level trust managers
  • Quantum equipment operators
  • Quantum health monitors
  • Quantum level medicine pharmacists
  • Quantum computing personality designers
There’s a huge difference between a 2D thinker and 3D visualization

17.) Mixed reality builders – Few of us realize this, but we’ve been taught to think two-dimensionally. Starting with 2D paper, books, whiteboards and blackboards, our schools have beaten us over the head with 2D thinking. As we moved into the computer age, we moved to 2D screens. If we throw away the display on our computer and project everything three-dimensionally above our desks, we can’t even imagine what it’ll look like to “surf the net,” produce a 3D website, or if we created 3D charts and graphs, what that third dimension will represent. We all live in a three-dimensional world, but we’re only now getting to the point of experiencing it the way it already exists.

Mixed reality travel agents
Mixed reality therapists
Mixed reality trainers
Mixed reality coaches
Mixed reality game designers
Mixed reality movie producers
Mixed reality experience builders, designers, and creators
Mixed reality news producers

18.) Cultured meat producers – Even though it’s still not commercially available, within two years it will be cheaper than ranch grown meats, and that’s where things get very interesting because a number of industrial pivots will kick in, opening the doors to a vast new set of industries.

  • Cultured meat bioreactor designers
  • Cultured meat stem cell managers
  • Cultured meat designers
  • Cultured meat ethicists
  • Cultured meat quality control
  • Cultured meat new product development
  • Cultured meat dietary engineers
  • Cultured meat process managers

19.) IoT– Home automation professionals – By 2040 home automation will be used to protect people, their health and belongings as much as it is to enhance their lives.

  • IoT elocutionists
  • IoT smart building installers
  • IoT smart clothing developers
  • IoT health monitors
  • IoT system anthropologists
  • IoT proximity alert systems
  • IoT data actuaries
  • IoT failure point assessors

20.) AI-teacherbot educators– In 2040 we will be living in a world that will require higher caliber people to make it work, and it’s rather preposterous to think our existing systems can suddenly start producing better results. AI-enhanced teacherbots are coming and the ones who benefit the most will be the ones who start making an early transition.

  • AI-enhanced teacherbot interface designers
  • AI-enhanced teacherbot courseware creators
  • AI-enhanced teacherbot engineers
  • AI-enhanced teacherbot maintenance and repair
  • AI-enhanced learning coaches
  • Personal AI-enhanced skill builders
  • Personal AI-enhanced life monitors
  • Learning optimizers

Final thoughts

Today we can only see a small slice of what the future holds for us. We know that computer architecture, energy sources and manufacturing practices will change dramatically and we can see rough outlines of the shifts ahead. What we can’t see is the secondary effects, the technologies and business models that will build on top of base technologies, that will impact tomorrow’s industries.

There were no newspaperman who looked at a mainframe computer and saw social media or websites, just like no retail store owners that looked at the first “horseless carriages” saw the coming of strip malls and supermarkets. They were too busy trying to serve their customers and beat their existing competitors. For this reason they missed the growing threat that would eventually disrupt their businesses.

That’s why today it is crucially important to set aside resources to explore, experiment and to tackle grand challenges so that you can begin to understand and ultimately harness the forces that will shape an industry. It’s better to prepare than adapt because, by the time you see the need to adapt, it may already be too late.

By Futurist Thomas Frey
Author of “Epiphany Z – 8 Radical Visions Transforming Your Future