1_metierInimaginable
π Economics π Society
What are the new jobs of tomorrow?

Can we really imagine the jobs of the tomorrow?

Richard Robert, Journalist and Author
On July 13th, 2022 |
6 mins reading time
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Can we really imagine the jobs of the tomorrow?
Key takeaways
  • To think seriously about the jobs of the future requires us to take a step back from the hyperbolic figures often seen in forecasts in this field.
  • It is through transformation and gradual development that professions emerge.
  • Three emerging areas stand out today: we can observe the appearance of new requirements that already exist as job functions and are in the process of giving rise to new occupations.
  • The first emerging area is the need to develop robots, algorithms, and AI to refine their interactions with humans.
  • The second area involves the ecological transitions, where jobs in the design and management of buildings, cities, vehicle fleets and natural or agricultural areas are flourishing.
  • A third emerging area concerns confidentiality, cybersecurity, and the ethical quality of technical devices or their relations with, today, humans, and tomorrow the natural world, starting with animals.

Job fore­cast­ing can be car­ried out in two ways. The first, method­i­cal and some­what short-sight­ed, is car­ried out by insti­tu­tions often asso­ci­at­ed with indus­tri­al sec­tors or pro­fes­sion­al branch­es, with­in the frame­work of what is known in France as the Ges­tion prévi­sion­nelle des métiers et com­pé­tences (GPEC). The aim is to antic­i­pate needs, detect emerg­ing issues and pre­vent pro­fes­sion­al dead­locks. These insti­tu­tions base their rea­son­ing on the exist­ing sit­u­a­tion and the trends iden­ti­fied by play­ers in the sec­tor. Their pro­jec­tions are con­tin­u­ous lines.

In con­trast, oth­er actors, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the con­sul­tan­cy sec­tor, work on the dis­con­tin­u­ous: dis­rup­tion, the rad­i­cal­ly new, and the unfore­seen, all of which nev­er­the­less has to be antic­i­pat­ed. The dis­course then oscil­lates between alarmism, even cat­a­strophism, and a form of enthu­si­asm that resorts to hyper­bole. The dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion in its var­i­ous forms offers excel­lent exam­ples, which can be rep­re­sent­ed with the “Hype Cycle” mod­el high­light­ed by Gart­ner: tech­no­log­i­cal trig­ger, peak of exag­ger­at­ed expec­ta­tions, trough of dis­il­lu­sion­ment, grad­ual rise and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty plateau. Ten years ago, it was uberi­sa­tion that would sweep every­thing away. Today it is AI. There is no doubt that the meta­verse trend will cause it to go into overdrive.

The trap of hyperbole

As far as jobs are con­cerned, you have no doubt heard the strik­ing phrase, “60% of jobs in 2030 do not yet exist” from a 2018 study by EY. But as Cécile Jol­ly, a futur­ist at France Stratégie, reminds us, some of these new pro­fes­sions will be very small in terms of num­bers and will there­fore not struc­tural­ly change the nature of the pro­fes­sion­al world. There is a lot of talk about influ­encers on YouTube and Insta­gram, but how many are there and how many will there be in the future?

Fur­ther­more, the num­ber of jobs cre­at­ed from scratch is neg­li­gi­ble. As Isabelle Rouhan reminds us in this dossier, there are “ver­ti­cal trades” that will not dis­ap­pear but will be reworked, and which, by mobil­is­ing more robots or algo­rithms, will change the role and func­tions of the pro­fes­sion­als involved in this trade.

At the same time, some pro­fes­sions seem to be eter­nal but are under­go­ing pro­found changes. In inter­view­ing Adrien Book on the trans­for­ma­tions of man­age­ment with the web3, for this dossier, the con­ver­sa­tion focused on the new devel­op­ments that are tak­ing place before our eyes but the pow­er of which we do not yet ful­ly appre­ci­ate. “The role of a concierge, for exam­ple, is one that has evolved the most in recent years: digi­codes on the one hand, inser­tion in the last mile of deliv­er­ies on the oth­er, have trans­formed this pro­fes­sion. Concierge ser­vices are also emerg­ing around Airbnb, with oth­er skills and a lot of mobil­i­ty. As with the role of the concierge, the once sim­ple job of deliv­ery dri­ver has been pro­found­ly trans­formed with the increas­ing num­ber of drop-off points and human inter­ac­tion, the dif­fi­cul­ties of access­ing these drop-off points, the use of GPS, the increas­ing lack of flu­id­i­ty of urban car traf­fic, and the emer­gence of cyclist deliv­ery dri­vers for the final stretch.

Think­ing seri­ous­ly about the jobs of the future means not get­ting car­ried away by hyper­bol­ic fig­ures, the hope of a great trans­for­ma­tion or the fear of a “great replace­ment” by robots or AI. It also means that we should not overem­pha­sise anec­do­tal changes, while neglect­ing more pro­found but less spec­tac­u­lar devel­op­ments. And it means con­sid­er­ing the weight of real­i­ty. “There is a lot of talk about arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence,” notes Adrien Book. That’s fine, we must be inter­est­ed in it. But we are in 2022 and we are still talk­ing about dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion and a dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion as we were already doing twen­ty years ago. The foun­da­tions have yet to be devel­oped. The dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion of the world is both very fast and very slow.

What we can observe is the emer­gence of pro­fes­sions of the future. The exam­ple of data pro­fes­sions, an increas­ing­ly impor­tant area of activ­i­ty, pro­vides a good illus­tra­tion of this: we are wit­ness­ing a grad­ual dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and the crys­talli­sa­tion of new professions.

Here are three areas of devel­op­ment, where new jobs are emerging.

First emerging field: making robots user-friendly

Automa­tion of the world is well under­way. It is pro­ceed­ing along two par­al­lel paths: soft­ware and hard­ware. In both cas­es, it rais­es the ques­tion of inter­ac­tions with humans, and a whole range of pro­fes­sions are devel­op­ing around these interactions.

Both appli­ca­tions and algo­rithms are designed for human users, and a clear­ly iden­ti­fied chal­lenge is to opti­mise and facil­i­tate the life of these users, both in terms of dis­cov­ery or appro­pri­a­tion and in terms of reg­u­lar use, which becomes a rou­tine. User expe­ri­ence pro­fes­sions are devel­op­ing around this demand, at the cross­roads of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, design, and ergonom­ics. Either it is a ques­tion of ensur­ing that the expe­ri­ence is as smooth as pos­si­ble with­out rely­ing on a third par­ty (bot or human), and the issues at stake are good design (of a page, a sys­tem) or it is a ques­tion of organ­is­ing this process so that it is flu­id, easy and effi­cient. Final­ly, mea­sur­ing the per­for­mance of these dif­fer­ent seg­ments is also an issue – and a range of pro­fes­sion­al spe­cial­i­ties – in its own right.

As for robots, both in the indus­tri­al envi­ron­ment and in ser­vice robot­ics when they inte­grate mobil­i­ty func­tions, human pro­fes­sions are emerg­ing around robot edu­ca­tion and ergonom­ics in its man-machine inter­face speciality.

The same edu­ca­tion­al needs are devel­op­ing on the side of AIs, whose per­for­mance often depends less on the num­ber of lines of code than on the num­ber of hours spent pro­cess­ing data, a task that is not com­plete­ly automatic.

Second emerging field: environmental transitions

Envi­ron­men­tal tran­si­tions are devel­op­ing in sev­er­al direc­tions, with the emer­gence of new professions.

Envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns are increas­ing­ly inte­grat­ed into agri­cul­ture, which after a cen­tu­ry of heavy mech­a­ni­sa­tion and mas­sive chem­i­cal use is now learn­ing to care­ful­ly man­age soil and inputs. Mon­i­tor­ing of soil bio­chem­istry, hydrom­e­try and heat (dro­nau­tics, sen­sors) calls for a whole range of emerg­ing spe­cial­i­ties, from oper­at­ing drones to engi­neer­ing, as well as aspects of the farm­ing pro­fes­sion that can, in large farms, give rise to entire trades. The sale of inputs is increas­ing­ly inte­grat­ed into ser­vice pack­ages that include advice and training.

Man­age­ment of nat­ur­al areas, and in par­tic­u­lar forests and water­ways, now calls for new spe­cial­i­sa­tions in mon­i­tor­ing, diag­no­sis, and intervention.

The ener­gy tran­si­tion, based on the man­age­ment of CO2 and the switch to elec­tri­cal pow­er for some uses asso­ci­at­ed with hydro­car­bons, is see­ing the emer­gence of new jobs. First of all, there are all of those in con­sult­ing, from the devel­op­ment of appli­ca­tions for choos­ing solar pan­els to local sup­port activ­i­ties. Then there are those in instal­la­tion and main­te­nance (of pan­els, heat pumps, stor­age solu­tions, methani­sa­tion sys­tems, etc.). Final­ly, there are those of man­age­ment: car­bon account­ing, fleet man­age­ment, a field that also sees the emer­gence of a whole range of man­u­al jobs.

A sep­a­rate area is that of the smart city, which is see­ing the emer­gence of pro­fes­sions in the field of design (of build­ings and neigh­bour­hoods), flow man­age­ment (sol­id and liq­uid), and also air man­age­ment. These man­age­ment jobs are mea­sure­ment jobs (pol­lu­tion, bio­chem­i­cal bal­ances), deci­sion mak­ing jobs, which are appear­ing with­in the major ser­vice providers or pub­lic authorities.

Third emerging field: ethics, confidentiality, cybersecurity

The digi­ti­sa­tion of the world and the switch to all-dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy in sev­er­al sec­tors rais­es new ques­tions: data secu­ri­ty and porta­bil­i­ty, con­fi­den­tial­i­ty of exchanges, eth­i­cal qual­i­ty of exchanges and data management.

Cyber­se­cu­ri­ty is already an indus­tri­al pro­fes­sion in its own right, with clus­ters of human pro­fes­sions involved in diag­no­sis, solu­tions, devel­op­ment and mon­i­tor­ing. But on the eth­i­cal side, some of these func­tions are only just emerg­ing but will one day be pro­fes­sions, like com­pli­ance offi­cers, who have become estab­lished in many companies.

Last­ly, ethics is linked to envi­ron­men­tal tran­si­tions: rela­tions with ani­mals, plants, cer­tain water­cours­es and the envi­ron­ment in the broad sense are caught up in a simul­ta­ne­ous dri­ve for reg­u­la­tion (with legal aspects and crim­i­nal risks) and pre­ven­tive atten­tion, which is lead­ing to the emer­gence of new func­tions and jobs.

An expanding ecosystem of professions around data

In the mid-2010s, we saw the tran­si­tion from “busi­ness intel­li­gence” meth­ods, based on pre-defined data series, to “Big Data”, which explores much more mas­sive quan­ti­ties of much less well-struc­tured data.

A new pro­fes­sion has emerged hence­forth: “data ana­lyst”. What does this job involve? Visu­al­is­ing the extrac­tion and pro­cess­ing of mas­sive amounts of data, mak­ing queries on these data­bas­es, cre­at­ing, or mod­i­fy­ing algorithms.

What hap­pens next is fas­ci­nat­ing. Today, we are wit­ness­ing a mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of pro­fes­sions around this basic func­tion. These jobs are pri­mar­i­ly con­cerned with the man­age­ment and devel­op­ment of data­bas­es and the sys­tems used to process them. These jobs include data­base admin­is­tra­tors, data engi­neers (who design or devel­op Big Data sys­tems), data archi­tects (who decide on the rel­e­vant tech­no­log­i­cal build­ing blocks to solve a spe­cif­ic prob­lem and inte­grate them into the exist­ing IT archi­tec­ture), machine learn­ing engi­neers, and data sci­en­tists (respon­si­ble for under­stand­ing the issues and propos­ing the best pos­si­ble solu­tions to the com­pa­ny based on data analy­sis and pro­cess­ing). But also the data min­er, in charge of explor­ing data, the chief data offi­cer in charge of organ­is­ing and super­vis­ing all these func­tions, and the whole cyber­se­cu­ri­ty galaxy on the func­tion of data guardian.