We are getting back to the final blog editions of our forthcoming book, Millennial City. with one more chapter and the conclusion to published in the serial blog form, the book is a collaboration with Dennis Walsh and this blog is Part 3 of Chapter 9. We will publish Millennial City as an e-book when the serialization is completed. The book grew out of conversations that Dennis and I have had about the future of cities, sustainability, and the millennial generation. We think that these three domains, if you will, are coming together to create a new future – and just in time we hope.
CHAPTER Nine – Part 3
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra
Optimists get excited. Pessimists get lost. It depends on what you have to gain and what you have to lose. Some say an exciting moment is upon us. Others say our economy is continuing to unravel. Either way, there’s a possibility that we could come out of the great recession with a concept of a new economy.
Brace yourself for the new future. Changing direction is going to be rough. Our faith has been shaken. Our beliefs tested. But it’s time to define the new era. The decades ahead will give us little choice. There are millions of unemployed and tens of millions unhappy with their minimum wage jobs. So, where will the new jobs be? .
Though humans may try to predict the future, nobody seems to get exactly right. But when it comes to the job market, one thing is certain: with the world experiencing one scientific breakthrough after another, exciting new career possibilities are coming at us like a freight train. Science fiction maybe, but what seems far-fetched today is often the technology of tomorrow. Technologies like the Internet are now as common as breakfast cereal. Some of the commonplace technologies of tomorrow are in their infancy today.
Expect to see advocacy rising in any area that people care about. Enterprises built around developing and supporting advocacy skills and capabilities. Technology will increase demand for a highly skilled workforce and add to the volume of change in workplaces. Over the next seven years, the number of jobs in the information-technology sector will swell. And still there will be limits to growth. The key to finding the jobs of the future will be where to look. The IT environment has changed. Administrators and support professionals will transition to working for big vendors or consultancies. Those that remain will become project managers. We’re entering the decade of the developer and the trend is already underway.
Large-scale, heavy industry is largely, but not completely gone. There will continue to be opportunities in manufacturing, and with a concerted effort at bringing manufacturing home there will be growth. What companies look like may change. Twenty years from now, corporations may consist of relatively small numbers of full time employees while the workforce becomes more and more transient, until everything becomes project and contract based. Keep that in mind as you continue reading that we choose the optimistic view, not naively but based on what we see, so hopefully the pages ahead will give you hope. The sustainability movement is sure to bring in jobs. Sustainability has become a real concern among business. Companies have been hiring eco-savvy individuals as “sustainability officers” for some time. More green innovators will be needed to imagine new business processes that save energy, money, and time. As global concern over environmental issues grows, the race is on to create new sources of energy. It won’t be long before biorefinery plants crop up everywhere, needing plant workers.
Food science is huge: in genetics, vegetables are being modified, for example for more pest-resistant corn and frost-resistant tomatoes. There is some evidence that such genetically modified crops are less sustainable – the corn, for example, requires ever greater applications of pesticide and herbicides as the invading species develop resistance. So GMO crops may, or may not, be a long-term answer to global food needs. At the same time farmers are looking for better ways to grow food more organically on a local scale. Organic food is more popular than ever before. More farmers, producers, and scientists will be needed to improve organic farming techniques and just simply grow food. Consultants will bring new ideas to the table on how to break down and eliminate the tons of refuse currently clogging waterways and stretches of land. Sustainable urban planners will be needed to solve spatial problems like urban sprawl and excess pollution with innovative ideas, or even build separate communities known as “eco-villages.”
But why stop there? Let’s go out, way out. Skilled workers are needed to tend to robots: to build them, maintain them, and keep them running. It’s only a matter of time before thoughts turn toward the great frontier of space. Becoming a space tour guide may not be as far off as you think – Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space tourism venture is getting serious attention. But that is for amusement. What are the odds we could become a space faring civilization in the 21st Century? Better than you think. In addition to sending out robotic exploration missions, or missions to mine asteroids, it is quite possible that people will be trekking to new planets, searching for new life and building a new kind of civilizations again. Science fiction becoming real.
Can we provide the energy to do all of this? That question is one of the greatest unknowns. The oil and gas industries believe they’ve discovered enough new sources of fossil fuels, mostly using fracking technology, to put “peak oilâ€ off for many decades. Some experts doubt the most exaggerated claims, as getting oil and gas from fracking requires a constant drilling of thousands of wells that “play outâ€ at a rapid rate. We’ll discover who is more likely correct in their assumptions over the next couple of decades. And global warming may put continued use of fossil fuel in doubt if extreme weather events begin happening with regularity. A Saudi oil minister is reputed to have once said that the stone-age ended long before we ran out of rocks and so it will be with the fossil fuel age. The problem is that it takes huge scale for any new sources of energy to replace what we’ve relied on with fossil fuels for a century. Solar has potential, as does hydrogen, along with truly exotic possibilities like low energy nuclear reactions. The bottom line appears to be this. If we don’t get an alternative energy breakthrough and global warming does not get out of hand, we’ll muddle through the century. Things will get harder and some of the dreams we’ve described will be postponed. On the other hand, if we are forced to change the energy mix due to climate change, or new alternative energy options make it attractive economically and environmentally to change, then the future might actually speed up.
[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Futurist.com, and curator of Dothefuture.com. Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through futurist.com]