Tomorrow's jobs are much like today's – except for one thing...

The predicted occupations of 2022 are reassuringly familiar, but how we work will change


Where are the jobs of tomorrow? One of the disturbing features of the recovery is the uneven nature of job creation. The economy is thumping out huge numbers of new jobs – a million a year – but the jobs are a higgledy-piggledy collection. Many are part-time, many are self-employed, many are low-pay, a few very high-pay – and many are done by people beyond normal retirement age. There are stories of skill shortages, particularly in engineering, yet 20 per cent of graduates are reportedly doing "menial" jobs. On top of this are huge regional differences, though the North-South divergence is more complicated than is often supposed.

Underlying everything is a deeper concern about the impact on inequality: will there be a further hollowing out of the centre, with lots of jobs at the bottom and quite a few at the top, but not so many in between?

Of course, we cannot know, any more than anyone 20 years ago could have predicted the surge of the online world and the jobs it has created. But I have been looking at a thoughtful and quite encouraging study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) on job creation in Britain through to 2022. The big message is that though just over one-third of the new jobs will be high-skilled and a lot of jobs will be low-skilled, there will be another 3.6 million medium-skilled jobs too.

The IPPR makes the basic point that you have to look not just at the jobs that will be created but at the jobs that will be vacated – by people retiring or leaving the workforce. We are in the period of peak retirement for the post-war baby-boomers, and while many may keep working for a few more years, this merely postpones the impact on the job market.

The top 10 occupations of the future are:

1 Caring and personal service (jobs such as dental nurses);

2 Social care associate professionals (social workers, probation officers);

3 Health professionals (pharmacists as well as doctors);

4 Media (including, surprisingly to some of us, journalists);

5 Company managers (senior executives as well as middle managers);

6 Cultural and sporting professionals (actors, dancers, photographers);

7 Leisure occupations (sports coaches, hairdressers);

8 Property-related services (estate managers, developers);

9 Customer services (tele-sales, retailers);

10 Business services (insurance, accounting).

These might seem a mundane bunch – an extrapolation of present trends rather than a brave new world – but that is fine. Job patterns shift incrementally and if we are looking eight years ahead it is reasonable to take what is happening now, adjust for retirement, and project it forward. We have been remarkably flexible in our use of labour and willingness to accept structural economic change. Because we have not artificially preserved employment, we should not expect huge swathes of jobs to disappear, as they did in manufacturing in the 1980s.

There are however implications for training, particularly for vocational training. We need more of it, and we need to celebrate its values. I suppose devices such as last week's VQ Day do help a bit to promote vocational qualifications, but the big driver is the likelihood that that's how you get the better job.

There are, I suggest, three other points. The first is that we are an open job market, open that is to other people in the European Union. There has been huge attention to this for obvious reasons; there has been much less attention to the fact that English-language skills and qualifications open up job markets elsewhere. A lot of British professionals will continue to see the Middle East and East Asia as opportunities. Our job market is more fluid than it has ever been.

The second is the need for people to build core skills early. I don't think we explain to young people that you close off options if you don't make the right decisions in your teens and twenties. You can patch later, but it is tough. The idea that people will have portfolio careers is more valid than ever, but you only have access to those portfolio careers if you have the core skills to start with.

The third factor is the importance of soft skills. If you check through those future occupations, nearly all of them involve a lot of human interaction. Handling relations with other people is a key, arguably the key, soft skill.

And one final twist: we are still thinking in terms of jobs. But already 15 per cent of the UK labour-force is self-employed, double the level of a generation ago. By 2022 that could be 20 per cent, maybe more. How we adapt to that is as big a challenge as training for the jobs of tomorrow.

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