The Future Job Trends You Should Be Thinking About Now

After years in hospo wilderness Gen Y breathes a sigh of relief at finally landing some of those fabled real jobs. Sadly, many haven’t got a scooby what job they want after this one never mind the one after that. Cue that dreaded old chestnut, just where do you see yourself in X years?

Technology is our future, no matter how you choose to slice it. To stay ahead of the robot overlords tech curve, we took a look at some trends that are due to hit us square in the mid-life-crisis of 15 years’ time.

Preparing for disruption

New technology is a disruptive force in old industries and can bring down great empires when they fail to adapt. Spare a moment of silence for Kodak, who once had 85% of the camera market. After betting the bank on the Photo CD they failed to catch up with digital cameras and memory cards quickly enough and ended up bankrupt.

The current crop of successful startups are taking industries that were once heavy on infrastructure and turning them into a simple service or process. Look no further than Netflix, a big virtual video pipe that has no network of wires or transmitters and yet is destroying TV networks and cable companies. Meanwhile, Airbnb has become the web’s largest holiday accommodation provider without owning any hotels, and Uber is the largest transporter despite owning no vehicles.

Can’t imagine life without it now, right?

So are you in an industry that can be turned into a process? To look at the future of your job, a good test is to imagine that Google entered your market tomorrow and launched a new platform. What would they do differently? If you can figure out what that service would look like you can also identify the players best placed to deliver it. Well, hello, stock options.

Widespread impacts

Logic used to hold that no matter the current forefront of science and technology there were a host of core jobs like medicine and accountancy that were always in demand. However, it’s possible for technology to change demand for traditional jobs in a very short space of time.

For example, we’ve seen gradual safety improvements in cars over the past century and yet there are still 1.3 million road deaths and 20+ million injuries worldwide each year. Research group McKinsey predict that driverless cars will eliminate 90% of these fatalities. If that proves to be the case, we can hope to see less doctors in the ER by 2030 and far more in research posts curing diseases.

More helpful than scary.

Meanwhile the reduced crash rates will cause the auto insurance market to shrink by 60%, reducing the amount of cover from $175 billion to $70 billion worldwide. That means a whole lotta math wizards retooling and moving cash into new financial instruments.

New specialisations

Demographic shifts are set to have a huge impact in some industries. Will an extra billion people on the planet impact your job? How about a rapidly aging population at home?

Take product design as an example. On the one hand, it’s currently booming as emerging economies catch up with us and demand for consumer devices increases worldwide. But just as early graphic design matured into separate paths like UI and 3D, product design will soon evolve into new specialisations.

Five years ago 3D printing sounded Sci-Fi.

The current model of designing products in the West, making them in the East, and dumping them in the trash every two years is unsustainable and won’t last if energy prices rise. Instead, we imagine there’ll be whole new career options, like a Product Lifecycle Designer who figures out how a product will be disassembled and the parts re-used before it’s made instead of just trying to recycle it afterwards.

At the other end of the spectrum we can imagine a Product Refurbishment Designer who looks at ways to give old products new life and keep them relevant rather than destroying them. Perhaps today’s Ikea Hackers – who strip furniture down to it’s component parts before rebuilding it as something new – will tomorrow be a job category all of their own.

A key driver will be the point when it costs more to destroy something than to find a way to reuse it. This is already happening in parts of the US where legislation means that consumer products such as computers are sold with the cost of recycling them built into the price. Companies like Apple now have a return programme and end-of-life planning so that products don’t end up in the dump.

Preparing to pivot

A team at Google in the mid 2000s were working on a design for a brand new mobile phone but had to abandon it completely when the iPhone came out and blew their plans out of the water. Instead of giving up they transitioned to Android, providing an operating system and app store software for other smartphone manufacturers.

Adaptability is a priceless skill.

The most important skill to future-proof your job is flexibility. Twitter started life as a podcast directory, while Youtube was initially a dating site with a hare-brained plan to pay women to upload videos of themselves.

The leader of the pack

The big winners during the first tech boom were the early adopters. In his pop-psych opus Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that successful people aren’t always the smartest guys in the room. Rather, they are often the hobbyists who become the first people on the planet to be experts in a field by spending 10,000 hours tinkering away at it.

This means that for a peek at the booming industries of 2030 we should look at what’s going on in backyard workshops right now. The next crop of experts is already out there, bio-hacking in Melbourne, product designing in Perth and dreaming up smart cities in Newcastle.

This is the future. Well, not yet.

Whether it’s an army of designers crafting robots for the elderly or art directors beaming ads to our eyeballs, life in 2030 is bound to be exciting. The best way to future-proof your career is to stay curious and get in on the ground floor.

Matthias McGregor writes from Delillo’s fictional Pop Culture Dept, here to “decipher the natural language of culture, to make a formal method of shiny pleasures—an Aristotelianism of bubble gum wrappers and detergent jingles.”

Lead image: The Fifth Element