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Future jobs: How many will they employ?

Microsoft Surface and the Future Laboratory have produced a report on what graduate future jobs might exist that we haven’t considered yet. It’s an interesting list of careers likely to appeal to anyone of school age now wondering what might be their opportunities in a world much changed from today. ‘Ethical technology advocate’, ‘digital cultural commentator’, ‘space tour guide’, ‘virtual habitat designer’, ‘freelance biohacker’. All of these seem likely future careers.

My concern is not so much whether these future jobs are realistic though. It’s about how many people they will really employ.

Let’s take the full list and compare them to current jobs to get a rough idea:

Virtual Habitat Designer

This is someone who designs virtual reality environments. The best current analog I can suggest is the computer games industry, which currently employs around 200,000 people. (http://ukie.org.uk/research)

Ethical Technology Advocate

Someone to negotiate the moral hazards of robotics and AI. Today around 20,000 people are employed in IT consulting in the UK. (http://www.consultancy.uk/consulting-industry/united-kingdom)

Digital Cultural Commentator

A social media maven. There are around 64,000 journalists in the UK. (http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/6000-drop-number-uk-journalists-over-two-years-18000-more-prs-labour-force-survey-shows/)

Freelance Biohacker

Around 9,000 people are today employed in ‘industrial biotechnology and bioenergy’. (http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/documents/capital-economics-biotech-britain-july-2015/)

IoT (Internet of Things) Data Creative

Someone who extracts value from the morass of data produced by the IoT. There are maybe 20,000 data scientists in the world right now. Let’s generously assume half of those are in the UK: 10,000. (http://solutionsreview.com/data-integration/so-how-many-data-scientists-are-there/)

Space Tour Guide

I couldn’t find good figures for the number of tour guides in the UK. There are 130 jobs listed on LinkedIn for tour guides. Let’s be generous and say there are 10,000 tour guides in the UK.

Personal Content Curator

A concierge service for your mind and media.

We’ve already looked at journalists so let’s compare this to a different personal service: personal trainers. There are around 23,000 personal trainers in the UK. (http://www.ibisworld.co.uk/market-research/personal-trainers.html)

Rewilding Strategist

Restoring our damaged biome. Today around 18,000 people are employed in the UK in conservation. (https://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/naturalfoundations_tcm9-291148.pdf)

Sustainable Power Innovator

The energy industry is predicted to employ 200,000 people by 2023. (https://www.prospects.ac.uk/jobs-and-work-experience/job-sectors/energy-and-utilities/overview-of-the-energy-and-utilities-sector-in-the-uk)

Human Body Designer

There are around 25,000 surgeons in the UK. (https://www.rcseng.ac.uk/media/media-background-briefings-and-statistics/surgery-and-the-nhs-in-numbers)

Future Jobs: Exciting for the few

Imagine that these future jobs experience explosive growth and that each one comes to employ as many people as are employed in each of the comparable jobs I have suggested. This is fantastically, spectacularly unlikely. But let’s say it happened. These ten future job titles would represent around 580,000 jobs in the UK.

In the next twenty years I believe we’ll lose about 800,000 jobs in call centres alone in the UK. Likely another few hundred thousand each in retail, logistics, manufacturing and professional services. Millions of jobs where machines are starting to encroach on human employment.

This isn’t to say that there won’t be new, exciting growth areas like those described above. There absolutely will. But right now, no-one has suggested many industries that will create mass employment. Certainly not mass employment with reasonable pay and development prospects.

Even if we focus just on graduates, as this report does, the picture doesn’t look good. About 400,000 people start university courses each year in the UK. The future jobs above might represent enough for just one and a half years of undergraduate output.

If I were an undergraduate right or A-level student right now, I would doubtless be excited by the prospect of being a ‘sustainable power innovator’ or ‘digital cultural commentator’. But I would also be concerned about just how many jobs will be out there by the time I graduate.

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Tom Cheesewright