Editor’s Note: This article is one of the top 10 Leadership stories of 2015. See the full list here.
For decades, the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s Economic and Employment Projections have been the bellwether for predicting what the hottest jobs up to a decade out would be. But with the rapid pace of technological change disrupting industries faster than ever before (think: robotics, 3-D printing, the sharing economy), it’s becoming obvious to many futurists that past trends may no longer be a reliable indicator of future job prospects.
"In the last two centuries, we’ve seen two significant shifts in the global labor market," says Graeme Codrington, futurist at TomorrowToday Global. "First we stripped the agricultural sector of workers, and then we did the same to manufacturing. Now the machines are coming for the tertiary sector, and will begin to strip companies of their white-collar workers in the next decade."
What that means, says Codrington, is that some of the hottest jobs of today could be obsolete by 2025 (check out the sidebar to see if yours is on the chopping block). Yet all hope isn’t lost, he says. "History tells us that somehow the labor market creates new jobs whenever it destroys some old ones. While it’s easy to see how the overall job market could contract significantly, and certainly many jobs that exist today will not exist in a decade or two, it’s also quite easy to see myriad new jobs being created."
So just what are the jobs that will be in demand in this brave new world only a decade away? Codrington and two other futurists give us their predictions.
"At TomorrowToday, we’re predicting that nearly 25% of today’s full-time employees will be working ‘on demand,’" says Codrington, referring to the increasing preference of companies to hire freelancers for short contracts when the need arises instead of keeping people on staff.
Currently the on-demand economy is popular in the creative fields or for the odd personal-services job, but Codrington notes that almost any job that can be done at a digital distance will be attractive for companies to opt for freelancers over staff, even when looking to hire "top-end professionals who can solve significant problems for companies."
The demand for these "on demand" workers will result in an increased need for individuals to brand themselves to set them apart from the competition. To do so, they will need a new set of skills related to "self-management, self-promotion, relentless marketing, administration, and self-development," says Codrington—anyone who can teach this on-demand workforce these skills will be in great demand themselves.
Related to Codrington’s personal worker brand coaches and managers will be the role of what he calls the "professional triber," says Joe Tankersley, a futurist and strategic designer at Unique Visions. Tankersley says that as more companies rely on on-demand workers, the role of a professional triber—a freelance professional manager that specializes in putting teams together for very specific projects—will be in demand.
The professional triber is "the Hollywood model dispersed across the general workplace," says Tankersley. Just as Hollywood studios don’t themselves hire the individual cinematographer, editor, scriptwriters, and actors to make a movie, neither will companies of the future want to hire individual components of a team to get a job done.
Instead, they’ll turn to the professional triber, or director, to let them assemble the team they think is most appropriate to complete the project. Companies, just as Hollywood studios do with directors, will keep working with the same triber, provided his varying teams keep producing hits.
Tankersley also believes that by 2025, there will be a large need for freelance professors as teaching moves into the on-demand realm. "The continued growth of online courses and the introduction of alternative accreditations will spawn a growth in freelance or independent professors. By 2025 all you need to start your own university is a great online teaching style, course materials, and marketing plan."
Though technology continues to move the world into the virtual space, the 21st century may see the return of local farming due to the number of people living in urban areas and the increasing awareness of the detrimental environmental impacts of industrial farming.
"Small artisan farmers will continue to grow in numbers as urban farming becomes a small but significant part of the food chain," says Tankersley, who believes that individuals and companies will spring up to teach and assist amateur urban farmers lead a healthier and more eco-conscious life.
By the year 2100, the planet is predicted to have another 4 billion inhabitants, yet well before then, the average age of a person living here will also increase. By 2025, the World Health Organization predicts that 63% of the global population will live to over the age of 65—some well past their centenary. As the average age continues to get older, Tankersley says end-of-life planning will become a hot job sector by 2025.
"As boomers grow older, they will reshape the last phase of life as they have every other phase. We can expect to see a major push to redefine end of life. New ‘business’ opportunities will range from life memorial planners as funerals become more elaborate than weddings, and even euthanasia guides as more boomers opt to decide when life ends."
The aging population will seriously start affecting world economies in the next decade, agrees Codrington, and a workforce built around caring for the aging population will be one of the hottest sectors of the economy, with demand for employees well outstripping the supply of workers trained in the field.
"My mother is one of many women in their 50s and 60s, many divorced or widowed, who are being recruited across the EU and UK to spend a few months a year looking after the elderly in those countries. Life expectancy is increasing by about 1.5 days a week at the moment, and more than half of all the people who have ever turned 80 are still alive.
In countries with socialized health care, the government provides personal care for these people, and is going to need more and more carers in the next few decades. By 2025, what is today mainly physical care will have extended to psychological care as well."
Unsurprisingly, not only will the world need more carers in 2025, but there will be a need for people who can be remote health care specialists to offload some of the work of local or regional health care specialists who need to commit their time to caring for patients with more urgent diseases.
"This is a fairly new hot job in 2015, but will continue to grow and develop," says Codrington. "It encompasses a range of health care professionals who either design devices and systems that can proactively track health issues and/or are involved in remote or virtual health care relationships with patients."
Interestingly, Codrington believes that by 2025, the highest-paying jobs in this field will all be held by Apple employees. "There is no doubt that with their iOS 8 released Health app and their integration of myriad health apps with the Apple Watch, Apple are making a play in this space, and by 2025 are likely to be the world’s leading remote and proactive health care company."
It may sound like science fiction, but advances in neurotechnology are set to explode in the next decade. Luke Skywalker’s robotic hand, digital telepathy, and even downloading your mind to a computer, could soon come to be. All this means neuro-implant technology will be a hot growing career field.
"Our knowledge of the brain is developing faster than almost any scientific field at the moment, and by 2025 our ability to understand the brain will be exponentially improved from today," says Codrington. "We will need a vast range of disciplines to be focused on neurosciences, including brain surgeons, neuro-augmentation and implant technicians and developers, brain backup engineers, real-time MRI scanners and interpreters, and neuro-robotic engineers to build mind-controlled robots and machines."
Moving away from the health sector, Codrington says the burgeoning Internet of Things industry, which is expected to be a $19 trillion market by 2020, will create a number of new jobs not just for engineers, but for technically adept handymen and women. Specifically, Codrington believes there will be a huge market for smart-home installers.
"Aluminum siding salesmen were followed by the double glazers, the air conditioners, the gasmen, and a whole host of others, going door to door over the past half century helping ordinary people improve their homes," he says. "It might not be door to door anymore, but there is going to be plenty of work for those who can bring various aspects of the Internet of Things into our homes in the next few decades."
Part of the expansion of the Internet of Things into our homes will involve the increasing use of virtual reality for both work and play. Offices could become obsolete if you can just log in virtually from your home office and interact with your colleagues as if you were in the same room. And when it comes to virtual reality for home entertainment, well, that 72-inch television and PS4 are going to look positively archaic in 2025. Virtual reality will be as much a part of our lives as the Internet and our iPhones are today—and that means people who can design the best VR experiences will be in huge demand.
"In every part of our lives, virtual reality—using much more advanced systems than Oculus Rift or MS HoloLens—will have become everyday by 2025," says Codrington. "We will need VR experience designers in every part of our lives to design and implement virtual reality experiences for us. From training and conference experiences in the workplace, to global tourism and fantasy running trails for our leisure, to even virtual relationships like the OS in the movie Her, virtual reality will need directors, actors, developers, and designers to make virtual reality very real for us."
John Danaher, a lecturer at NUI Galway’s School of Law and an expert in the philosophy of law and emerging technologies, agrees. "With the growth of virtual reality software and hardware, I think there will be a niche for people who can design special experiences for people in virtual reality environments," says Danaher. Why virtual reality experiences in particular and not real-world ones? Well, because "virtual reality will provide more opportunities for creative thinkers."
Danaher also believes that an increasingly hot job in the future may actually be one of the oldest professions on the planet: sex work.
"Erotic labor may be a niche area for humans in the future," says Danaher, who has written at length about technological unemployment and sex work. Danaher is one of the many futurists who believe that robots and software will increasingly put the population out of work as the century progresses. After all, robots don’t need breaks, don’t get sick, and can generally do things better and faster than humans already. Yet one area where humans currently excel over robots is sex—which is a good thing, considering many people may be turning to sex work to support themselves since a lot of today’s jobs might be redundant by then.
"I think, given the choice, most humans will prefer to have sex with another human rather than a machine. This could have interesting consequences for the sex work industry, which has always existed, be it legal or otherwise," says Danaher. "Increased automation in other industries will drive humans toward niche areas in which they have an advantage over machines. Sex work could be one of those areas."
But Danaher says even in sex work, there will be robots and virtual reality devices that offer some possibility for sexual gratification too. That’s why he feels there will be a need for sex worker coaches to train sex workers to compete with their digital counterparts. "This will increase the market for people who can train humans to be effective sex workers," he says, and also notes that he believes the threat of technological unemployment will lead to further legalization of sex work around the world.
3-D printers have been a boon to the manufacturing and prototyping industries for years, yet the large majority of the consumer population seem to have little interest in learning to use them. Danaher doesn’t believe this apathy from the general public will dissipate by 2025, but he does believe an increasing number of people will come to appreciate the advantages of 3-D printing, which means they’ll hire people to design and print their objects for them.
"I’m not sure that these people will make much money, given that the designs will be easily copied and shared, but there may be a premium at the high end of the market," says Danaher. "The rich will pay their own designers to create bespoke products for them. Just as companies already hire specialist designers, imagine having your own personal Jony Ive to design your 3-D-printed furniture."