Emerging Jobs: Are You Ready for Tomorrow’s Work?

Apr 23, 2009

Technology in its broadest sense, along with discovery, is the driver of new work and jobs. Each new discovery, every new software tool or programming language, every new product creates new jobs and requires new skills. As people began to unearth bones as they plowed fields in England, the science of paleontology emerged. As computers grew, so did the number and type of computer languages and the programmers and analysts that make them useful.

Each recession gives rise to hundreds of new careers and entirely new job functions as old ones are made obsolete. Car assembly people, for example, are a dying breed, and not many will survive this recession. Other jobs that are at the end of their life cycle include ordinary bank tellers, cashiers and checkout clerks, and even many call center jobs.

But, on the other hand, the 21st century will bring hundreds of new jobs. Already I can envision the time when we will need experts in installing and improving artificial organs, in implementing green energy strategies, in installing solar and wind energy systems, in fixing electric and hybrid vehicles, in mining the Moon and Mars, and in navigating and understanding deep space. But we will also need people who are more skilled at virtual relationship building and in working across cultures. Social networking managers as well as network facilitators and builders will be a growing sector of the economy. Psychology and sociology are clearly going to be adapting and changing to a global, intercultural world. In the shorter term — say over the next three to five years, many jobs are already being identified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States and by other groups.

U.S. News & World Report each year publishes a list of those jobs it sees as “ahead of the curve,” but these are mostly jobs that are already here and growing. This past December, for example, a couple of its emerging jobs were data miner and healthcare informatics specialists. Other jobs are being enhanced or enlarged as a result of the slow economy. These include car mechanics whose utility has suddenly increased as people keep their cars longer. But I am more focused on the jobs that will emerge in five or more years.

Academic institutions are very poor at identifying emerging careers, and most academic majors are traditional. This lack may be for the best, as the best preparation for skills that are not yet known is a broad and basic education. If we are lucky, we may see a return to a four- or five-year basic degree that is not in anything particular — just an arts or science degree that will be followed by more specific career development in a discipline. What we have learned over the past 25 years is that skills change as fast as do fashions. Skills such as semiconductor process engineer, analog recording engineer, HTML programmer, or BASIC programmer have all gone away or morphed into very different occupations. Function-specific engineering knowledge changes every three to five years, and whatever you learned in school is most likely obsolete before you are employed. Technology makes stability impossible, and anyone who is in school today had better be able and willing to quickly adapt and learn new skills.

Some of these emerging careers will require cross-functional multi-skilling. These careers might include those dealing with cloned human beings or genetic mining and engineering. We are already starting to grow polyester-like material from modified corn plants that consume no petroleum. We can clone humans and will at some point soon. Who is equipped to deal with the moral, ethical, and psychological issues that will arise?

Recruiters are at a special place in all of this. You will be asked to find, attract, and recruit people into careers and occupations that are new and vaguely defined. You may be ethically challenged and forced to deal with your own beliefs as requests roll in.

Are you prepared? Here are a few tips on getting ready for tomorrow’s job market.

Tip #1: Know where you stand ethically on issues of genetic engineering and related areas. What are you willing and able to support? The issue will not be whether these careers emerge — they already do exist is some form. The real issues will be whether you are skilled enough to recruit people into these fields and whether you are willing to do so.

Tip #2: Scan the market, read as widely as you can, and stay abreast of the trends and career developments that emerge. We are well into the age of genetic manufacturing and I urge you to read the work of Juan Enriquez — bestselling author, businessman, and academic, who is one of the world’s leading authorities on the economic and political impacts of life sciences. His books are fascinating as are his talks at TED. Watch one of his TED videos here.

Tip #3: Always be flexible and ready to embrace and champion new careers. Learn what you can and keep at the edge of your field. One day a hiring manager will approach you with the request to go find someone with a skill set that you have never heard of. How would you approach that? Are you ready for tomorrow?

Over at the Future of Talent Institute we are embarking on a new and ambitious project to identify some of the jobs that are less obvious but that will be important to the economy over the next decade. Based on some of the trends we see as major, such as sustainability, genetic engineering, and intercultural mixing, we expect to identify a number of careers, jobs or specialties that will fuel growth and employ many over the next 10 to 15 years.

I’d love to hear from any of you who have ideas about this or see emerging trends, careers, or occupations. We’ll give you full credit for your insight.

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