When asked what the future of work will be like, it can be tempting to envisage a world far into the future where we’re colonising space, driving around in hovering cars and have robots policing cities… scenarios that fit well in a sci-fi novel. In reality, the future of work has already arrived.
Advances in technology such as automation, digitisation and artificial intelligence (AI) – often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution – are creating new and emerging jobs and careers. The numbers of people working in areas such as virtual reality, drone technology, machine learning and autonomous vehicles may not be that large at present, but we can expect to see technologies like these alter the jobs landscape over the next 10-20 years.
And while it’s true that we can expect to see a small share of jobs in space travel and other technologies which push the limits of our knowledge, there will also be a vast number of jobs on offer which are already very familiar to us.
So what jobs and careers can we expect to be in demand over the next decade and beyond?
A rapidly changing world of work
To predict the direction in which work is heading, we need to understand some of the influences which are shaping change. Here are a few examples:
An ageing population
In the UK, the 65 years and over age group is growing faster than any other. Those who live longer, healthier lives create demand for financial services, hospitality, leisure and wellbeing activities. But there is also a growing need for adult health and social care services, alongside life sciences research, to support people in their later years.
Some sectors have an ageing workforce and are keen to attract young people to replace those who retire, especially in sectors such as construction, agriculture, manufacturing and transport.
Here are just some of the jobs and careers which we can expect to continue to be in demand because they support the needs of an ageing population:
- Care worker
- Data scientist
- Fitness instructor
An increasingly urgent need to tackle climate change – at a local, national and global level - is leading to a diverse range of jobs and careers emerging.
Experts predict that we’ll see natural hazards such as floods, wild fires and storms occurring more frequently, requiring solutions, data modelling and disaster management services. The conservation of natural habitats and ecosystems will become imperative, as will food security, and we’ll need people who can work in a wide range of roles in the land-based sectors.
Targets for reaching net zero in the UK by 2050 will require skilled people to work in areas such as battery technologies, renewable energy, carbon capture, electric vehicles and retrofitting buildings.
Jobs and careers related to tackling climate change that we can expect to see grow in demand:
- Engineering technician
- Environmental scientist
- Analytical chemist
- Flood risk engineer
- Sustainability consultant
- Drone operator
- Geographic information systems (GIS) analyst
- Electric vehicle chargepoint installer
- Building surveyor
- Mathematical modeller
Advances in technology
Advances in technology are without doubt the biggest influence on the types of jobs and careers that will be available to us in the future. And they also affect the ways in which we work too – apps, digital platforms and disruptive technologies can influence how we consume goods and services, how businesses operate and how we conduct our day-to-day jobs.
Depending on the type of work we do, more of us are now able to work from home; we can also connect with others around the world for virtual business meetings or deliver our services in an online space. Technology can help us to connect and it can also speed up all kinds of transactions; many of us buy our weekly food shop without having to queue at the checkout or have used an app to order and pay for food and drink in cafes, pubs and restaurants.
Digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence are all transforming the type of work that’s expanding. Just as the number of self-checkouts grows, so the number of till operators declines. In some workplaces, instead of employing humans to deliver services to customers, it’s the people who can create, maintain and manage the technology who are in demand.
The more tasks a job has which can be automated, the more likely it will change or disappear altogether. This can happen in jobs at all levels but in some jobs - in areas such as accountancy, journalism and law for example - the tasks which have the potential to be automated are only a part of the work and people are most likely to just need to adapt. However, jobs such as clerical officer, call centre adviser or manufacturing operative are at higher risk of being fully automated and the job disappearing.
Technology jobs and careers we can expect to see grow in demand:
- Cyber security professional
- Data analyst
- FinTech consultant
- Robotics engineer
- UX/UI designer
- Software developer
- Ecommerce merchandiser
- Esports referee
- Virtual reality developer
- AgriTech engineer
Jobs and careers at risk of decline include:
- Banking clerk
- Admin assistant
- Call centre adviser
- Travel agent
- Manufacturing operative
- Checkout operator
- Sales assistant
- And further into the future: taxi driver and waiting staff
Skills and strengths in demand
So we know that while some jobs will decline in number, the other side of the coin reveals a growing demand for people with the skills to innovate, design, manage and maintain the computers, machines and interfaces we interact with.
Advanced digital skills such as coding and data management, alongside creativity, problem-solving and analytical skills are increasingly sought by employers.
For the first time ever, over half of all jobs in England (just under half across the UK as a whole) are in higher-skilled work; some locations have an even greater share. These roles are typically those which require qualifications at level 5 (foundation degree) and above and which may require strengths such as:
- management and leadership skills
- STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths) qualifications
- complex problem solving and analytical skills
- advanced digital skills
If you’re someone who enjoys using their tech skills but who also has creative talent then you could be in high demand! A combination of these skills are highly desirable in all sectors – from TV/film, gaming, graphic design and marketing to product development and building design.
Career pathways into jobs of the future
Over the last decade we’ve seen shifts within education and training which aim to address future skills needs in the UK. This has opened up and improved the quality of routes into a wide range of careers which employers expect to be recruiting for over the coming years.
Graduates remain in high demand but apprenticeships are now available all the way from level 2 (equivalent to GCSE or National 5) to level 7 (equivalent to a postgraduate degree). The apprenticeships pathway enables people who prefer the option of earning while they are training - rather than taking the higher education route - to enter in-demand jobs for the future.
Young people in England have even more options open to them from the age of 16 in the shape of T levels which are now on offer at some schools and colleges. Equivalent to three A levels, these new qualifications give students the opportunity to gain technical skills in sectors where skills are in high demand such as construction and the built environment, science, healthcare and business management. You can find out more in our Introduction to T levels article.
A more flexible way of learning digital skills, including coding, and other work and life skills could be to seek out free, short courses on learning platforms such as Open Learn, FutureLearn and Tech Nation in Scotland; you can learn more in our article ‘What are MOOCs?’. Read on to the next section to find out how these could benefit you in more ways than one.
Preparing for the future
Today’s job market is a pretty turbulent one. We can make predictions about what it might look like in 10- or 20-years’ time but no-one can guarantee that the career pathway you set out on today won’t have its twists and turns; in fact, it’s to be expected. Developing the resilience to cope with setbacks and adapt well to change will be important skills for the future, and there are other ways in which you can prepare for change too…
Having a positive or growth mindset doesn’t only help us to make constructive adjustments as we go through our working lives, it’s a strength that employers highly prize. A growth mindset means we are open to expanding our knowledge and expertise, that we want to continue to learn new skills where the opportunities arise and are prepared to step outside our comfort zone.
Six key skills and strengths for the future of work
It’s clear that skills are going to play an important part in helping us navigate the future of work. Here are six top skills and qualities for the future:
- Growth mindset
- Socio-emotional skills (such as empathy, caring and resilience)
- Digital skills (ranging from basic to advanced)
- Critical thinking
Keeping pace with change can also mean being curious, a characteristic that goes hand in hand with a growth mindset and which can be a real advantage in the 21st Century workplace. With some employers moving to strength-based interviews, being able to reflect on personal qualities like these is a useful thing to be able to do.
So rather than thinking of the future labour market as a place we’ll reach eventually, we should consider it to be constantly evolving. And if we can evolve with it, then we’ll be able to successfully steer our way through the career or careers that we might find ourselves in during our working lifetime.
Helen Janota - Updated May 2023
Helen is an experienced information and careers professional working as a freelance writer and trainer. She writes about careers and the labour market for a wide range of audiences and organisations and aims to produce easily accessible, informative content that reflects the current jobs and careers landscape.