What Do Jobs of the Future Look Like?

We asked ESI’s experts and our partners, ANBOUND, a Beijing, China based global think tank, to give their insights on the future of technology, so we can offer both a US and Chinese perspective. They focused on four major topics: smart cities, jobs of the future, autonomous vehicles, and tourism-related apps. To view our previous ESI/ANBOUND Present Value posts, please click here

This week, ANBOUND staff and ESI’s Steve Wray and Sidney Wong give us their thoughts on how jobs will change, and what skills will be required for the jobs of the future.


With advancements in technology, what will be the jobs of the future?

ANBOUND: The development of technology has replaced some occupations with robots and machines, but it has also created numerous new jobs. Which occupations will disappear under this development? What characteristics do these fading occupations possess? What skills are required in the newly created jobs? Which kinds of new jobs meet the needs of our age, and which cannot be replaced?

We believe the jobs that are likely to be replaced faster include those that rely on human physical labor, repetitive tasks, and those that require no special skills and advanced intellectual activities. Jobs that cannot be easily replaced require attributes from workers, such as human emotion and interaction (e.g. caring, comfort, experience, resonance), and also human dynamic intelligence (the ability to organize, cooperate, communicate, and coordinate).

The technological development will shift the labor market toward jobs that require a deeper sense of  thought. These jobs will be customized according to the needs of customers and clients, and at the same time they will be more refined. The changes are in three aspects:

  • Increase in mental labor;
  • Increase in demand-oriented labor;
  • Increase in customized and specialized services.


What new technologies will drive this transformation?

ANBOUND: The rapid development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will reshape the way people work. AI has the potential to replace many existing jobs, particularly those requiring repetitive and manual labor. Some future jobs are less likely to be replaced by AI, such as creative work (e.g. scientists, painters, writers, and entrepreneurs), customized work (e.g. therapists), flexible work, and adaptable work.

One concern is that the rapid development of AI may lead to serious structural and cyclical unemployment of many workers. However, AI will not decrease the total number of jobs in the long run, instead it will create more job opportunities. Additionally, in the future, people will have more time for leisure and creative work.

In terms of education, it is necessary to cultivate new professional skills. However, to identify skills that will be demanded, more dynamic and continuous tracking is needed, along with educators well versed in the demands of future work.

Soon, AI will have a strong, comprehensive impact on how people work and live. For example, the emergence of AI has completely changed the thinking and methods of go-players, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. As our Chief Researcher, Chen Gong pointed out, the future world will be completely different, AI is a disruptive revolution that is far more exciting and surprising than the advent of the steam engine. It is foreseeable that in the future, AI technology will play a great role in all competitive situations from production to war, from daily life to decision-making.


What skills will be needed for future jobs? And what is the role of government in helping to manage change?

Steve WrayESI–Steve: When we look at the jobs of the future, we see that most jobs will require technological literacy, and many jobs fundamentally changed due to advances in automation and AI. What this means is that while there may be fewer production or manufacturing jobs requiring direct human contact with the goods being produced, there will be new opportunities designing, programming, repairing, and interacting with the machines and technologies that are producing manufactured items. This should create new categories of jobs that require integration of human factors and machine learning to create new applications, tools, and products.

ANBOUND: There will be an increase of customized and professionalized services: health care, private doctors, personal care, and other services; occupations requiring person-to-person interaction with emotional and interpersonal communication, which is different from a machine’s interaction with people.

Freelance and entrepreneurial opportunities will increase. In a traditional industrial society with clear labor division, everyone is engaged in their own profession, one must complete work in front of machines and equipment every day without doing other things. Now, in the internet age, communication has become more convenient, coordination has become easier. You can coordinate with another person who is geographically far away from you. Moreover, people are free to choose their time and place of work. Freelancing is becoming more and more popular; for example, today’s experts and professionals are serving in multiple roles. They work with others in various companies and platforms, maximizing use of their knowledge and skills through the internet. This trend will become more and more obvious in the future.

ESI–Steve: In the US, we call that the “gig” economy, with many people often having a variety of jobs— they may drive for a rideshare at night and do computer coding during the day. But with more people working for themselves, the role of government in providing services that used to be provided by employers in the US, like health care insurance, and pensions and investment accounts, may need to be provided by government in some way.

In addition, government and local community institutions have a large role to play in managing the transition to a more technology-focused economy. Schools and higher education institutions will need to be able to rapidly change curriculum, retrain teachers, and work closely with students and parents to allow them to develop the skills needed to compete for these new jobs. Non-profit or public sector workforce development organizations will have to help older workers transition into new roles, providing them with the ability to retrain and gain new skills while leveraging their knowledge and understanding of industry.


What are some of the challenges we face during this transition in training for future work?

ESI–Sidney: Many companies will be seeking technical and analytical workers who can effectively and dynamically identify and solve problems. They need to work flexibly in a team setting but also as an individual in various locations. Companies are becoming more like strategic brokers of talented people. Such work can be difficult to train for in our existing educational system which focuses on individual performance and the reward of educators as “paper publishers.” In October, I was in Hong Kong discussing this issue with a friend who was appointed to chair a new division, “integrative systems and design” for multidisciplinary education. We had a two-hour discussion about obstacles and challenges, like types of students, new kinds of instructors, new reward systems for faculty, corporate sponsorship, and so on.

Teamwork with free interaction is the essence of solving difficult problems with no preconceived boundaries. Currently, individuals who can learn fast and integrate multiple skills will adapt faster to the future job market. A higher education system that focuses on basic research but ignores application and problem solving is less capable of nurturing new workers.


ANBOUND is a multinational independent think tank that focuses on information research and analysis in the areas of public policy, finance, and risk. ANBOUND has provided strategic assessment, policy analysis, economic analysis, and other research and information services to governments, top 500 companies, and financial institutions in Mainland China.


Sidney Wong, Ph.D. is a senior advisor with Econsult Solutions, Inc., a fiscal impact expert, and the project lead of Community Data Analytics. He previously worked as a senior consultant with the World Bank in evaluating the quality of Project Appraisal Documents in the South Asia Region.



Steve WraySteve Wray is a vice president and director at Econsult Solutions. Mr. Wray leads projects focused on regional economic competitiveness and civic strategy and policy. He brings to ESI’s clients extensive experience connecting the public, private and non-profit sectors with analysis and strategy development of economic growth, talent development, infrastructure and governance issues.

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