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Work in Progress: Jobs in the 21st century.

Work in Progress New Ways of Working

Who would have thought 50 years ago, that today you no longer need a single typesetter for newspaper and book production, yet another industry will earn really good money with the development of games and moving images? Or that companies who work in a field to reduce energy consumption will provide just as many jobs as companies that work in the field of traditional fossil energy. Well, some things have changed rather rapidly in our Brave New World and 1984 is a thing of the past. A glance ahead into our near future of job trends forms the conclusion of our "Work in Progress"-series.

In the "past" everything was different and maybe things really were easier in the "olden days". You did an apprenticeship or a degree and often stepped happily into the footsteps of the previous generation and gained a feeling of security. And you stayed in this job. For decades.

When was this "past"? Good question. Apparently it has not been that long ago. What we can describe much easier on a time axis, however, is that today we have a greater diversity of training options and jobs. To confirm this simply have a quick look at career platforms or university directories. Eureka!

Jobs are always situational.

If our living conditions change, then our jobs change too. If you want to learn more about current or future jobs, then it makes sense to find out more about the essential factors which influence our societal developments.
One of the so-called "mega trends" is surely the demographic and social change.  Based on the total population of Earth, the number of people on this planet keeps growing (145 babies born every minute), however, in many countries the birth rates are declining and existing society becomes older and older.

The consequences can be felt already: The number of working age people decreases, the need for care staff for old people increases. Conclusion for the job market:  New jobs in the health sector are created. And: modern technologies will have to compensate for the lack of manpower in the future. A buzz word is "ambient assisted living systems" and there is demand for specialists who can develop these AAL technologies. The application examples are versatile e.g. for security systems, comfort or entertainment  and are based on self-learning systems which network sensors and merges and analyses data allowing daily routine tasks to be executed. This includes e.g. the automatic switch off of the cooker when you are not at home, protective measures against break in, control of lighting, room temperature and music which adapts to the habits of the user and therefore provide age-appropriate support.

Another development which also dramatically influences our life and job situation: the trend of increasing urbanisation. 50% of the world's population today lives in cities. In 1800 it was only 2%. Every week, our cities grow by 1,5 million people. This may be due to birth or resettlement, which may be based on economic, political or even climate triggers. The consequences are new jobs e.g. in transport, logistics, urban or space planning.

And this is where you can already see the next important factor: Climate change: The numbers diverge depending on the interests, however, it seems clear now that our fossil energy sources - if our energy consumption remains unchanged - will only last another 50 years. Development and expansion of renewable energy are therefore unavoidable. Jobs in the so-called Green Economy or in the Sustainable or Corporate-Social-Responsibility are not only an indicator of the change in energy production but also show a very fundamental shift in awareness and we have seen the emergence of job titles such as Environmental Scientist, Environmental Technician, Environmental Lawyer, Environmental Officer or Environmental Coach.

New jobs mostly appear at the interface between science and research or are the side effects of new technologies. Over the last three decades, the latter has provided us with the mega trend of our century per se: Digitalization. The worldwide data volume doubles every two years. Classic methods will in future no longer be able to analyse Big Data quantities. Jobs, which deal with handling this data will fill real key positions as well as those that focus on the safeguarding and control of private data.

At the same time, the internet has provided us with a wide range of new communication jobs. From SEO specialist to community or social media manager, information broker, online editor to APP developer and other IT field specialist. And even activities which were not initially planned as a "career", can develop into serious stream of income on the internet. Although admittedly not every blogger (currently over 75 million blogs on Wordpress alone!) or YouTube contributor can live off their web activities.

Tips for the next 30 years

If you are currently looking for a career change then thoughts towards to the mega trends may be advisable.

+ Dealing with waste material would be such a topic since our approach to waste product has to change drastically. Upcycling instead of recycling is the motto. Using creativity to make something useful out of seemingly worthless by-products such as new garments, toys, furniture; a new career as waste product designer or waste product technician beckons.

+ Urban Gardening is on trend. Tomorrow it will be Urban Farming. Inhabitants of large cities will have to be increasingly provided for by urban farms. There is the distinct possibility that farms will be structured as high rise structures in order to allow production in the smallest of spaces. More than ever, jobs in this area will require agricultural and technical knowledge specifically for energy generation.

+ Robotic experts will become sought after specialists due to increasing automation outside of factories and production facilities. As soon as robots will take on tasks in private homes, then the developers will have a special responsibility.

+ This also applies to future traffic analysts. In the future, transport means such as cars, buses and trains will only be computer operated. Human drivers will not be needed any more. The task will then be to coordinate all transport means with each other and to ensure the safety of the passengers. Traffic analysts will plan which transport routes ensure smooth operation.

+ Medicine and health will remain hot topics. As a genetic programmer, you will work on the development of medication that suits the individual genetic code of patients in order to achieve the best possible effect in the fight against cancer or Alzheimers.

+ Or your work as a pharmacist deals with the cultivation of therapeutic proteins and food with health promoting additives. Melatonin flour, carrots enriched with hormones and pigs free from cholesterol require new, skilled farmers.

It almost seems as if any of those recommendations could never draw a blank - place your bets on traditional skills with digital expertise. And above all: remain open to new things.


Brigitte Schedl-Richter

Texterin, freie Journalistin,