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Posted: November 23, 2011

Fifty-five jobs of the future

The first 26

Thomas Frey

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 percent 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 percent 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 percent 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 percent 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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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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Readers Respond

Great thoughts, Tom. The future has always promised more free time to relax and do nothing. Will there be someone to watch my TV, root for my favorite team, or do my regular exercise for me? We have dog walkers today and can they do my walking? Then when I just sit there and stew, I'll turn into a bowl of jello. Then there will be a need for more people to take care of just me. By George Tyler on 2011 11 28
Hi Tom. Good stuff as always. What a FUN series! A couple of thoughts, though. The whole "time broker, time loan" thing seems a bit far-fetched to me in basically 19 years. Manipulation of time has just gotten started, and hasn't gotten very far yet. But...if there was a breakthrough in that arena you might be right. What do you know that the rest of us don't? As for the gravity manipulators, I know someone who has gotten pretty far with that NOW, so I don't think it will be all that far in the future. I'm not sure what you mean by a "Brain Quant," and would like to know more about that. I think that the use of drones and other robots are in the very near future, not 20 years down the line. As for "robot polishers," I wonder if robots will be made of metal on the outside, or look very human. But I do think that there will be plenty of opportunity for people who repair and upgrade household robots. "Amnesia surgeons?" There are better ways than surgery to remove memories, I would think. Perhaps highly skilled psychologists with chemical or electrical systems to simply wipe some memories? As for intelligent plants, don't we already have SEMI-intelligent plants? Aren't they called "Congress?" I do think you left out a couple, though. As we develop further a system that jacks the computer right into our brains through micro-wires (a currently existing and developing technology), there will be a huge market for people who deal with that. I also think that, in addition to growing cloned limbs and bodies, we will become cyborgs to a great degree. Right now, artificial limbs are being developed that hook into the nerves that are left after amputation and produce sensation, fine motor control, etc. Additionally, I'd look for new, waterless toilets (perhaps using force fields to completely eliminate human waste, or advanced composting technology to reuse it) and other waste disposal or utilization products and techs, and population control technicians, either in private industry or the government as the carrying capacity of our world is stressed and people continue to overpopulate. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2011 11 28

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