Are you ready for the future? A world of cyberspace conferences, e-mail memos, technological elites and down-trodden service workers. Jobs as we know them are finished, says Helen Jones.
Welcome to the future. A world with an underclass of technological have-nots, filled with rage and frustration and a small elite group of "knowledge workers" who work from home because it's too dangerous to venture out. Science fiction? Possibly. But professional futurologists believe that work will change beyond recognition in the next 20 years.

"The changing shape of the world of work will have a huge impact on jobs of the future, with new roles being created and existing ones obsolete," says Anna Reed, a researcher for Reed Personnel Services.

"In some areas, demand will grow. Genetic engineers will become more common as public disquiet dies down and the advantages of the technology become clear. Other roles will expand, so that secretaries will routinely organise virtual conferences over the internet and travel agents will include trips to the moon," she says.

So how can you future-proof your career? Should you take a job in computer technology rather than in the City or become a health care worker rather than an estate agent?

Richard Holt, a director of consultancy Business Strategies says: "It's very difficult to predict the jobs of the future and those which will no longer be needed, but management and information technology skills look like the best combination."

In a report called Occupations in the Future, Holt's company predicts that there will be a growth in a number of different areas: "Back in 1981 there were nearly six million people employed in manufacturing and only two and a half million in financial and business services. The two are now equal, at a little over four million. Public services, however, continue to be the largest growth sector and by 2006 may account for the employment of over eight million people," says Mr Holt.

He also believes that service industries will be a major source of employment. "The fastest growth from until 2006 is likely to occur in services such as restaurant and bar staff, with over 35,000 jobs being created."

Paul Edwards, chairman of the Henley Centre for Forecasting, agrees. "Anything that is service-oriented will be in demand, whether it's for gardeners, cleaners, nannies or somebody to walk your dog."

Marian Salzman, a futurologist and head of Brand Futures at advertising agency, Young & Rubicam in New York, says that stressed-out executives will want to use the services of oxygen bars where they can get invigorating shots of pure air and will also seek solitude from faxes, e-mail and the internet at resorts where they can unwind.

But service industry jobs will not only offer greater convenience to consumers, they will also provide human interaction.

"Personal trainers, silver service waiting staff and party organisers will be in demand. As work becomes an exercise in cyberspace, it is jobs which provide human contact which may grow fastest," says Anna Reed.

However, service industry jobs are usually poorly paid. How do you ensure that you are one of the elite group who can afford to employ this army of cleaners, masseurs and dog walkers to help with your frantic life?

Specialise. Futurologists at BT suggest that genetic engineers, biological scientists and telecommunications and information technologists will be in great demand as will doctors and other health care professionals. Food technologists who can produce "nutraceuticals" - foods which contain all the nutrients we need and have medicinal benefits - may also be popular.

But a flexible attitude is equally important. Management guru Charles Handly believes that the future is freelance. Workers will build up packages of jobs working for a number of companies and their loyalty will be to themselves rather than to a single employer. As a result, employment agencies specialising in finding short-term contracts are likely to be a growth industry.

And Graham Whitehead, a futurologist at BT, says that, although jobs will not disappear overnight, some will gradually become obsolete.

"People have to understand that there is no such thing as a job for life anymore and it is no longer a bad thing to move quickly from job to job. Keep moving, be flexible and adaptable or you may find you don't have a future," he says.

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