The Top 6 Design & Engineering Jobs of 2030
Advanced technologies such as robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence and generative design are changing the way things are designed and made. The changes are so profound that many people call it a new industrial revolution. But does this mean “the machines” are on the brink of taking over? In a word, no.
We see technology as enhancing human capability. Machines are going to complement what we do, not replace us. They will liberate workers from repetitive or dangerous tasks. They will free up more of our time to focus on exciting, enriching and higher-value activities. They will allow us to be more creative, by providing us with options that simply wouldn’t have been available otherwise.
Of course it’s true that some jobs are going to go away, but others will be created too. New jobs — and entire new job categories — are going to emerge in the wake of this technological upheaval, giving people the opportunity to work at jobs that we can’t even imagine yet.
As a recent World Economic Forum report noted: “In many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate. By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.”1
So what will the new jobs of this new industrial revolution actually be?
Given the speed of technological change, making predictions 25–30 years in the future is a fool’s errand. But we’re willing to stick our necks out about a decade and half. So here, in no particular order, are six likely possibilities for the top design and engineering jobs in the not-too-distant future of 2030…
As we move from a world in which robots are hard-coded for tasks (as is often seen in an auto assembly plant) to one where robots take on more varied and nuanced jobs, the need for humans actually rises. Increasingly, robots are going to work alongside human colleagues. Human trainers will be needed to demonstrate complex tasks for robots to learn and perform.
Think of it this way: the chef who understands flavor combinations and creates an inventive meal is not going away anytime soon, but the laborious job of chopping onions and carrots may be better handled by training a robot to handle the task. It may seem rote to people, but every vegetable presents variations and nuances that robots are only now becoming capable of coping with thanks to machine learning.
Sensor System Integrators
As more and more products get sensors, they become part of the exponentially expanding Internet of Things (IoT). But getting all those Internet-connected things to talk to each other (and not just to dedicated apps on your smartphone) is turning out to be a much bigger challenge. It’s one thing for your shoes to monitor your exercise or for your refrigerator to re-order eggs when you’re low, but the real magic will be when your shoes tell your refrigerator that you’ve been working out a lot more lately and it should double your order of Gatorade.
That may be a flippant example, but the need for people who can integrate sensored things is about to explode. The job of sensor system integrator will take on many forms — it may be setting up sensor networks in commercial buildings, or integrating connected products in homes, or even integrating sensor data during product development.
In the latter case, think of a company looking to make its clothing dryers more energy efficient. An obvious answer could be to use sensors to monitor when clothes are sufficiently dry and turn off the machine, but a sensor integrator might think bigger and also add moisture sensors to the washing machine. This could lead to the discovery that running the spin cycle in that machine longer will actually result in a shorter total drying time, saving time and energy.
This kind of “systems thinking” can be incredibly valuable to manufacturers themselves. But it is also a change that has a trickle down effect and begets more jobs as other systems integrators will need to make sure the laundry machines talk to all kinds of other devices in the home. Ultimately, it’s a virtuous cycle of smarter products and employment opportunities.
Design is a booming profession, and while (algorithmic) design tools will become ever more prevalent and advanced, they won’t replace the need for designers — but they will change how a designer works.
A emerging class of “generative design” software will provide dozens or even thousands of design options automatically based on certain criteria — weight, strength, cost, size, materials, etc. While human designers will spend less time on the shape and geometry of a product, they will still need to deeply understand the design challenge at hand and determine the right constraints and parameters to arrive at a desired solution.
Basically, instead of coming up with a 3D model from scratch, the designer will allow this AI-based generative design software to create a solution set that they will refine into the ultimate outcome.
3D Print Specialist
3D printers are improving at a breathtaking pace in recent years — becoming faster, handling thousands of new metals, composites and other materials. As prices come down and software continues improving as well, this type of ‘additive manufacturing’ will become more and more commonplace. This is a welcomed change because 3D printing wastes less material and can produce complex forms not available through other manufacturing techniques.
The world is already facing a shortage of skilled machinists who can operate ‘subtractive’ manufacturing machines like computer-controlled lathes and mills. The US alone is facing a shortfall of 2 million skilled workers over the next decade. The boom in 3D printing will similarly require skilled specialists and add another huge category of employment in the years ahead.
AR/VR Experience Curator
If the Pokémon Go craze demonstrates one thing, it’s how big augmented reality (AR) and its sibling-technology virtual reality (VR) have the potential to be. While the job of AR and VR content producer is already a growing field, it’s clearly poised to grow dramatically.
Right now, many AR and VR applications are related to gaming and entertainment, but the possibilities for design and engineering are immense as well. Building design, automotive engineering, training for dangerous jobs like oil rig workers, and educational experiences are just a few areas where AR and VR will prove to be tremendously valuable.
Unlike gaming and movie studios that are already well-versed in 3D content creation, organizations that are new to this territory — architecture firms, manufacturers, vocational programs and schools — will need to bring on skilled staff to create and curate AR and VR experiences. People who know how to bring these kinds of experiences to life will be in great demand.
This may sound like the domain of heavily credentialed scientists only, but the ability to synthesize (or “write”) DNA is becoming dramatically less expensive and easier to accomplish. Synthesizing DNA has hugely promising applications in the field of human health, where personalized molecules can be created to fight diseases. However, there are other applications with less life-and-death consequences that will emerge in the next decade and beyond.
Think of creating house paint that can change colors, or vegetables with unexpected flavors — kale that tastes like strawberries, anyone? As the science advances and the software tools radically simplify the process of molecular-level design, a whole new professional field based on building things at the most microscopic scale will be opened up for forward-thinking designers and engineers.
To be sure, many of the six new jobs described here will require some university or other post-secondary level training, but they are not the sole domain of the ~1 percent with PhD degrees.
It’s more a matter of recognizing these opportunities early on (and you already have an advantage by reading this!) and charting an educational course that will set you up for success. Prospective designers, engineers and others interested in related fields have much employment opportunity to look forward to in the next few decades.
Far from lamenting how robots and their software equivalents stole our jobs, we believe that we’ll be grateful to these technologies for giving us rewarding new careers we could barely imagine in 2016.