The Professions of the Future

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.


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Predicting the future is a tricky business. There have been countless ridiculous failures at identifying the trends and products which will determine the future shape of our life and our environment.  Even more difficult is trying to guess which of us will be deemed a useful member of the community – and which an obsolete relic. To a large extent, the answer to this question lies in determining the useful professions of the future.

This is an age when people are determined, defined and categorized in strict accordance with their professions. Whereas during the Renaissance, a person might have been defined by his range of interests (remember the likes of Leonardo da Vinci), by his familial, religious, or ethnic affiliations, by his or her gender and so on – today the first and foremost question is: “What do you do for a living?”

What constitutes a profession (as opposed to a hobby), or a vocation (as opposed to an avocation)?

  1. The activity must be continuous and pursued for a length of time;
  1. It must occupy most of one’s waking hours;
  1. It must yield earnings or compensation whether in money or in kind;
  1. The practitioner must possess an advantage over mere laymen in that particular field of knowledge or activity. In other words: one must be able to tell apart layman from experts, the latter being the product of a highly specific education or training;
  1. The occupation must be hierarchically layered with clear flows of professional authority and responsibility and with a clear career path (climbing the professional ladder).

The second relevant question is: What are the trends which determine our future? It is useless to look at microtrends. These are too volatile and, in principle, unpredictable. Much more important are the trends that last for hundreds or even thousands of years. These are usually not the results of technological conjuncture or geopolitical upheavals. Rather, they are the outcomes of characteristic human activities which are uninterrupted.

Consider healthcare. Terrified of death and infirmity, people always wanted and are very likely to continue to want to improve their health and thus to postpone the inevitable and better the quality of what is on offer. Another such overriding tendency is education: this is a part of the human survival kit: by educating oneself, by acquiring a profession, by learning more about the world – one betters one's chances to survive. Out of this set of human, almost deterministic activities, a group of overriding trends emerges:

Enhanced Mobility

People, goods and, lately, information are rendered, daily, more and more mobile. Physical distance has shrunk. A global marketplace has formed. Content is almost instantly available anywhere. This was once dubbed as the global village – an outdated concept which might soon be replaced with the global home. All the professions which have to do with increased mobility will benefit.

The transportation of people: pilots; drivers; engineers; traffic planners and monitors; innovators; tourism-related vocations; and so on;

The moving of goods: hauling freight via shipping, trucking, airlifting, and train.

This two areas are hardly a growth industries, but still offers opportunities.

The moving of information (and, more generally, the Service Industries): expertise related to trading systems; the Internet; computer and cyber safety; networking and telecommunications; entertainment; finance-related technologies in banking and elsewhere; content delivery; smart, personal, and mobile computing platforms; apps and task-oriented softwares; and automation.

More generally; the creation of destinations for people, goods and information (commonly known as Markets or Marketplaces): advertising; marketing; trading; design; image management and public relations.

Emergence of the Middle-class in Asia and Africa

Within the next few decades, more than 2 billion people will have joined the ranks of the middle-class, mainly in Asia and Africa. Professions that cater to the particular needs, desires, and preferences of this emerging, supranational superpower will benefit: specialty foods; consumer goods; electronic gadgets; mass entertainment; cultural events; curating; special education; tourism and hospitality; second language acquisition; suburban construction and development; automotive industries; day care, nannies, and babysitters; old-age facilities for ageing parents; dating and matchmaking services; marriage and divorce-related legal services; self-help and personal psychology gurus; and so on.

The exact opposite picture will prevail in the West: the middle-class will be gradually eroded and yawning income disparity and inequality will lead to the emergence of a thin layer of very wealthy people and a majority of poor folks. Catering to the requirement of both these classes will give rise to a host of new professions and career opportunities: luxury goods vs. thrift shops; haute couture vs. second-hand clothes; public schools vs. private establishments; specialty tourism (including to space) vs. mass excursions; public transport vs. million-dollar vehicles; private jets and yachts vs. commercial flights and shipping; professionals – from barbers to medical doctors - who are either resident or on house calls vs. strip mall clinics; butler, chauffeurs, and domestic help vs. carpooling and time-sharing.

The Ageing Society

Better medicine, the collapse of birth rates, and the wide availability of contraception have led to the polarization of the age structure of society as the number of older people skyrockets. In the not too distant future, most people will be middle aged and old. This greying of human society represents a massive economic opportunity: from organ transplants to elder care of older: nurses; paramedics; entertainers; leisure time professionals; companions; manufacturers of specialized equipment and medical devices and products; operators of care facilities and homes for the very old; specialized psychologists and therapists; pension planners; legal and accounting specialists (with emphases on pension and inheritance laws and tax planning); publishers of large-print editions and specialized software; retailers of self-defense and security gear; personal shopping assistants; cruise operators; cosmetics for the elderly; and this is a very partial list.

Virtually every industry and field of human activity will have to adapt to these demographic changes by developing age-related expertise. This applies to the arts (mainly music and cinema) as well as to the crafts, to industry as well as to agriculture, to infrastructure as well as to government. Human society will be enormously influenced by this particular demographic tilt.

The Fragmentation of Society

Initially, society was composed of very large units. People belonged to tribes, or "nations". These were groupings of up to hundreds of thousands of people. Individuals felt amply defined by this type of affiliation. Nothing was left out or needed to be added when you said that a certain person was "a Jew". Stereotypes were more than sufficient and, usually accurate.

Later, the concept of family emerged, at first, in a very extended form: the family comprised a few generations and all removed family (blood) connections. Gradually, the family shed more and more layers. People began to possess family names only 250 years ago. The nuclear family was an invention of the 19th century, when the industrial revolution and modern methods of transport and communication broke families apart. Even these relatively small units came under a debilitating attack in the last 50 years and the nuclear family underwent a nuclear implosion, it disintegrated. Today, the basic unit of society, its cell, its atom, is the individual.

From the dawn of history to the late 1950s, the collective had been the organizing principle of human affairs. The pursuit of happiness was channelled via collectives and even dissidents and rebels formed collectives to express their grievances. But, this old system brought humanity to the verge of extinction. Disenchanted with mass ideologies, people switched to the opposite pole: militant individualism, which became the new battle cry and organizing principle of increasingly more narcissistic collectives and individuals alike.

 

As increasingly more potent technology was and is being added to this volatile mix, power is shifting from elites to the masses, from majorities to minorities, and from states and institutions to individuals. Thus, a varied range of hitherto exclusive and intermediated activities, both benign and pernicious, have been devolved are now the domain of empowered individuals and citizen collectives. Example include: gatekeeping in publishing; barriers to entry in various industries; inaccessible education; cross-cultural exchanges; journalism; and the state’s monopoly on violence.

People will tend to isolate themselves: they spend more time at home, as they work from it (flexitime,or flextime); they form short-term attachments, and are engaged in ad-hoc activities, which do not restrict their absolute freedom and mobility. Solitary media are predominant: the Internet is largely a one-user medium (cinema was a communal affair and even television was a family-oriented fare).

The professions which will cater to the needs of individuals as they drift away from an atomized and anomic society (while still allowing the user to communicate impersonally) will be the professions of the future: Internet; entertainment (especially customized and personalized); telecommunication; singles-related industries (dating and matchmaking, singles bars); selective social networking; virtual reality; home-bound small businesses; temp (temporary labour placement) agencies; and other professions catering to the conflicting human needs of being together while being alone.

All the other seeming trends are recurrent illusions. There have been ages of more or less democracy, more or less market orientation, more or less polarization between rich and poor people. The human race experienced numerous forms of government, of marriage, of economy, of management, of residence, of production, even of trying to predict the future. After all, it was the wisest of all men, King Solomon, who said: "There is nothing new under the sun".


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