Overview | Work in Progress: Emerging Smart City Occupations

This article summarizes findings from a full-length study. Read the full report here. All figures are contained in full study.

Study Scope

This report describes dozens of emerging roles being created by smart city development. These emerging roles (defined as currently non-existent or rare) are grouped into five subject areas:

  • Privacy, Cybersecurity, and Risk Management
  • Equity, Ethics, and Inclusivity
  • Innovation and Growth
  • Infrastructure and Mobility
  • Sustainability and Resilience

This report focuses on professionals in senior positions as opposed to entry level jobs.

Role evaluations includes a description of their creation and evolution, their accompanying responsibilities, backgrounds, skills, and team structures.

Photo by This is Engineering on Unsplash

Study Context

“Smart city” is a term that broadly describes the interconnection between information and communications technology (ICT), data, and urban life.

Spending on smart city projects worldwide was estimated at $608.3 billion (USD) in 2019. Despite the pandemic, spending increased to $679.5 billion (USD) in 2020. Smart city investments will impact existing jobs and drive demand for new occupations.

Study Findings

Each section contains analysis based on a literature review of relevant smart city developments, insights from key study informant interviews with individuals in senior level roles and data scraping of online job boards across 16 countries

Privacy, Cybersecurity, and Risk Management

Data collection and use is central to smart cities. Numerous forms of public data are already being collected and utilized in cities around the world to inform:

  • Traffic management
  • Transportation planning
  • Government service provision
  • Other aspects that improve functionality and quality of public services

An estimated 88% of Canadians are concerned “about their privacy in the smart city context,” therefore, data security and ethics are critical.

Primary Responsibilities

Privacy, cybersecurity, and risk management professionals are needed to ward off cyberattacks.

Skills and Backgrounds

Professionals in privacy, cybersecurity, and risk management often have a background in both law and ICT, or business and ICT.

Understanding privacy law, legal policymaking, and computer network security are important, which typically calls for an advanced degree or post-degree certification. Certifications such as the Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) are also useful for privacy work, as are certifications demonstrating technical IT skill sets.

Team Structure

Small teams typically operate across multiple departments within an organization. These are often experts in cybersecurity and IT as well as data scientists, auditors, legal staff, and various project managers.

These teams seek individuals with applied backgrounds such as lawyers and data scientists. Staff with legal and data knowledge, presentation skills, and dedication to civil service work are in high demand.

Training Needs and Skills Considerations: Privacy

Certifications in privacy (such as the Certified Information Privacy Professional) and technical IT skill sets are helpful to privacy professionals involved in:

  • Guiding private companies working with municipalities on smart city initiatives
  • Writing guidelines for ethical procurement of smart city technologies or ensuring user data is properly anonymized
  • Ensuring the safe use of data

Equity, Ethics, and Inclusivity

Smart cities make use of citizen data. Experts in equity, ethics, and inclusion are needed to guide and manage this process toward optimal service offerings and solutions.

Work in this area is sometimes considered a subset of human resources, however, equity and inclusivity work has recently emerged as a distinct field, particularly in response to growing concerns about equity and racism.

Primary Responsibilities

This field focuses on organizational learning and conduct within the organization, the identification of disparities, and the analysis of data to inform decision-making.

Skills and Backgrounds

Background experience in this field is often in one of two areas: law and compliance, or diversity and HR.

Some study interviewees in these roles had a master’s degree in administration (MBA, public administration, non-profit administration).

Key skills include understanding stakeholder needs and viewpoints, analyzing data, and disseminating data. Interviewees also noted the importance of communicating effectively and being comfortable with community engagement.

Team Structure and History

Interviewees were in their current roles for between one and four years. These positions were typically newly established when interviewees filled them, suggesting that attention to ethics and equity — especially in a smart city context — may be growing.

Training Needs and Skills Considerations

These roles require people with strong listening skills, ability to train others on racial equity, and policy and data analysis.

Interviewees noted the value of key soft skills, including flexibility, empathy, and curiosity, as well as interdisciplinary experience.

Innovation and Growth

The public sector faces pressure to be more creative and innovative to emulate the productivity and agility of the private sector. Relatedly, the private sector is also paying more attention to innovation. Formalized innovation roles are becoming increasingly common in many companies.

Responsibilities: Identify, Experiment, and Implement

These roles involve identifying challenges, conceptualizing solutions, followed by testing, piloting, and implementation.

Skills and Backgrounds: Business and Design

Innovation professionals often merge business and entrepreneurial acumen with technological skills and knowledge.

Sample backgrounds of interviewees in these roles include PhD in management, business development, and business analyst for a technology firm. One interviewee noted that people in these roles typically “have done a lot of different things.”

Team Structure and History

These professionals often work with managers of other departments and various subject matter experts, IT staff, project managers, geographers/GIS experts, and design thinkers.

Interviewees resoundingly agreed on the importance of practical experience and work-integrated learning for the success of their teams and future cities.

Training Needs and Skills Considerations

Key skills include understanding diversity, business development skills, communication ability, and user experience.

Infrastructure and Mobility

Significant changes in the way city dwellers commute and get around major metropolitan areas have been driven by the emergence of new business models that combine the data-driven sharing economy with advancements in transportation technology.

Overall Responsibilities

Smart mobility work involves the domains of traffic and operations management, curbside management, permitting, parking enforcement and transactions management, and mobility and micro mobility services.

Interviewees emphasized work on pilot projects, often in partnership with private companies and external vendors, as providing key learning opportunities for their technical staff and for technology designers, policy makers, and regulators.

Skills and Backgrounds

Interviewees in these roles typically had over a decade of experience in traffic engineering, mobility services, transportation technology, and human resources and project management.

Their educational backgrounds spanned both technical (engineering) and social science (curriculum and instruction) domains.

Professional experience typically includes both the public and private sector.

Team Structure

The size and composition of these teams vary from large groups of “traffic and mobility engineers, operators, and technicians, along with project managers, and inspection and permit intake staff” to a smaller, multidisciplinary teams working in an incubator/sandbox environment.

Training Needs and Skills Considerations: Theory to Application

Cross-disciplinary talent is desirable: technical skills combined with data analytics knowledge and an awareness of issues around privacy and ethics, and inclusivity and equity in technology design.

In discussing cross-disciplinary talent, interviewees pointed to the need to overlap fields of study that have traditionally been more pursued in isolation.

Sustainability and Resilience

Climate change is cited as the greatest challenge that humanity currently faces, and many of its effects will directly impact cities.

Sustainability professionals are necessary to mitigate and adapt to the effects of this significant challenge and limit other environmental harms.

Overall Responsibilities

Harnessing data is key to improved sustainability and resilience of cities.

Skills and Backgrounds

Many sustainability and resilience professionals have degrees in management, public policy, governance, urban development and design, and sustainability.

Interviewees had long-term sustainability experience, with education in fields such as geography, urban planning, public policy. Their experience included community organizing, advocacy, consulting, social and environmental policy, and collaborative governance work.

Previous work experience in organizing, developing consensus, and collaborative work is needed for the success of future smart cities.

Team Structure and History

Energy planners, project managers, communications staff, and behavioural change experts make up these teams.

Training Needs and Skills Considerations

While resilience and sustainability appear to be a rapidly emerging fields, they remain a “luxury” in many city administrations.

Universities could better in training people for careers in sustainability and resilience by focusing on applied theory and creating opportunities for direct experience.

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Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) - Conseil des technologies de l’information et des communications (CTIC)