Earlier this week, the Lt. Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, said that in the future, "65% of grade school kids are going to have a job that hasn’t been invented yet.” If the past has taught us anything, though, it's that most yet-to-be-invented jobs will never actually exist.
While it sounds like one of those made-up statistics, Newsom's estimate actually comes from a 2011 book about brain science by Cathy Davidson. She contends that we should be teaching our children using radically different methods so that they can compete in a bold new job market, one that's just over the horizon and filled with futuristic-sounding work. While she may have a point, predicting what jobs will be common 20 years hence is quite the guessing game. And it's one we've been playing—poorly—for decades.
The 1982 book The Omni Future Almanac took a stab at what the job market of the future might look like. The book has a handful of predictions for jobs that were rare in 1982 and actually fairly common today, like "copyright law analyst" and "computer games programmer." But for the most part, the jobs are simply a reflection of ideas that people of the 1980s had about the future. While cryogenics lab assistant is certainly a job that exists, they're not nearly as common as they were predicted to be. Nor are there many holograph designers here in the year 2013. Or space geographers.
Below is a sampling of 47 jobs that we were supposed to have by now, many of which are, of course, open to interpretation. A "microwave marketer"? Were they referring to someone who markets microwave ovens? Frankly, your guess is as good as mine.
- Cryogenics laboratory assistant
- Laser beam operator
- Holograph designer
- Mutation expert
- Artificial intelligence scientist
- Genetic engineering salesperson
- Space traffic control officer
- Aerospace designer
- Simulations specialist
- Clone doctor and clone nurse
- Teleconferencing coordinator
- Automatic factory security
- Organic computer engineer
- Hybrid airship operator
- Debugging specialist
- Digitizer technician
- Maser specialist
- Silicon mining expert
- Space geographer
- Fiber optics technician
- Voice-activated computer repairperson
- Computer museum director
- Technology transfer monitor
- Remote-nursing technician
- Sports engineer
- Biological historian
- Software coding experts
- Charged-couple device technician
- Abstract writer
- Space shuttle repairperson
- Magnetic train developer
- Industry control center technician
- Automatic drafting programmer
- Robot retrainer
- Video systems engineer
- Microwave marketer
- Computer art specialist
- Automatic tunneling expert
- Deep-well explorer
- Submersible crew
- Underwater archeologist
- Bio-farming expert
- Organ replacement surgeon
- Sonar applications salesperson
- Bullet train manager
- Materials recycling technician
- Speech compression technology engineer
If you strip away their specificity, some of the jobs in the book are certainly part of other occupations: Voice-activated computer repairperson, for instance. Siri-repair person isn't exactly a job, but that's only because Apple Genius encompasses so much more.
As we all know, prediction is a tough business. But it's a business made easier by the fact that no one is likely to call you incorrect for decades, if ever. But our goal when examining predictions like these shouldn't be to ridicule the prognosticators of yesteryear, or even call them incorrect. Our goal should be to simply explore these predictions with the benefit of hindsight and do our best to learn from them. Being able to predict whether a particular job will exist in the future is incredibly useful for people (young and old) who are trying to plan their lives.
It's worth remembering, though, that our predictions have real-world consequences. If you tell a generation of kids that there will be huge demand for 3D-printing experts and virtual-reality headset designers, that will influence the decisions that they make. And while it may have seemed like a given in 1982 that the world would need a lot more holograph designers, you'd be hard pressed to make that case here, 30 years into the future.