Class of 2030

A girl entering school this year will likely be entering the job market in 2030.

What jobs will be available to her when she graduates? Will there even be such a thing as a job? Will her education have prepared her for this job? What about the next job? Or the one after that?

Earlier this month, I moderated a panel about the future of jobs based on some research we are conducting at Pearson. It was at SXSWedu 2017, a conference focused on educational innovation that attracts a broad audience.

While the future of jobs is a topic often discussed at length, our researchers are approaching it with a twist: a twist that allows us to start with many of the human factors driving this shift. The ultimate goal of our research is to answer a very practical question: what will education systems need to do differently to prepare people for this future?

To begin to answer this question, we need to start with an awareness of the global trends — beyond just technology — that will affect jobs. These include globalization, urbanization, aging, and climate change, among a few others. Once we identified these trends, we brought together experts to debate their impact on the jobs of today.

Our next step — which is where things really get interesting — is to use machine learning to look for patterns in those predictions. If we make a prediction that demand for jobs A and B will increase, what implications does that have for job C, job D, job E, and so on? The analysis will be conducted at the micro-skill level (all coded by the O*Net database).

In using this novel methodology, our hope is that we will identify patterns that others have not yet found, allowing us to better understand the jobs of the future and how we can prepare people for them.

So, what are the trends we’re considering?

The most obvious trend is technology; its impact on the job landscape is exceedingly clear. For example, we know that automation (e.g., robots) will dramatically reduce demand for many jobs, especially blue-collar manufacturing ones. But, we also know that the emerging field of “cobotics” — where a human cooperates with a robot — could open up an entirely new set of possibilities!

Another important trend is aging: with lower fertility rates in the Western world and increased life expectancy, the average age of society is going up. If this trend continues, we can expect demand for in-home health, lifelong learning, and general healthcare to rise. (For a fun exercise, think of the interplay between aging and technology: will demand for healthcare workers rise or fall?

Another interesting trend is urbanization: with 2.5b more people expected to live in cities over the next three decades, how will this change society and the nature of jobs? As more people move to the cities, it leaves fewer jobs in rural areas, which only causes more people to leave for the city, reinforcing the cycle. How will we arrest the decline in economic opportunity for rural America?

In addition to these, our experts are also considering several other trends — globalization and climate change to name a couple — and how they will shape the job landscape of 2030.

Some interesting takeaways

While much of this research is still in progress, the panel at SXSWedu did raise a few key points.

  • The talk about jobs should be more gendered. We haven’t heard much about the relative impact of these trends on traditionally male jobs versus traditionally female jobs. For example, manufacturing jobs — which are at great risk — are traditionally seen as male jobs. Whereas, teaching — which may be at lower risk — is seen as a predominantly female job. Will we see a shifting balance of workforce participation? If so, what impact could this have on society?
  • The color of your collar may not matter as much as you think. The prevailing wisdom has been that blue-collar jobs are most at risk, while white-collar jobs are likely to be safe. Not so true, anymore. We are seeing great risk to previously “safe” white-collar jobs from artificial intelligence. For example, the financial services industry is in the midst of major disruption due to algorithmic trading, which is automated trading by computers. While it’s not yet perfect, many experts say it is only a matter of time before algorithmic financial returns exceed human ones. Another example is from the world of tax: IBM’s Watson is now able to optimize your tax returns because it has “read” the entire US tax code. Will this make human tax experts obsolete, and will the annual anxiety-inducing trip to H&R Block soon be a relic of the past?
  • With destruction, comes creation. It isn’t all bad news. Whenever jobs have been destroyed in history due to technology, new ones have come to replace them. When the electronic spreadsheet was invented, thousands of human calculators were out of a job. But soon thereafter, people saw that they were able to use these spreadsheets to evaluate various scenarios for their businesses, giving birth to financial planners.
  • Two new models of education will emerge. The pace of change is becoming more rapid. To accommodate, we will all need to constantly learn new knowledge and skills, which might lead to the prominence of two educational models. The first model, resembling a liberal arts education, will include a heavy investment upfront in learning how to learn. Then, with every new career, you would only need minor “top-ups” as you go. The second model, resembling the traditional technical education, will be a lighter upfront investment to get “job-ready,” but will require higher time commitment with every successive career.
  • The impact on society is unknowable. For decades, people have been predicting the worst. In the 1930s, John Maynard Keynes even predicted that technology will make humans redundant. While this hasn’t happened — on the contrary, we are all working more than ever — the invention of artificial intelligence does make you wonder if we are at the cusp of a 21st century version of the Industrial Revolution. If robotics and artificially intelligent systems truly take over more of our jobs, what will it mean if 50–60% of the country doesn’t have a job? Will we adopt a universal basic income? Will more men be out of a job than women, leading to a change in traditional gender roles? If fewer people get meaning out of their careers, what will it mean for society?

These are just some of the things I took away from the SXSWedu conference, and there is so much that still isn’t known about the future. But one thing is clear: it will not stand still. The jobs market of today will absolutely not be the job market of tomorrow.

The only thing we can do for certain is to be ready to change and to learn, so we can continue to strive to provide effective education that will lead to better jobs and better lives for people around the world.

To learn more about this research, please visit this page.

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