Tony Parkin: Jobs that don’t exist yet

I was considerably cheered earlier this year to find out that I had already stumbled into one of those mythical ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’.  And that I had created it before the inventors had even thought of it. (I really must check out the law around ‘prior art’, in case there’s a bob or two to be had there).

‘Jobs that don’t exist yet’ is always a great phrase to include in any blog or presentation. There is nothing more guaranteed to wind up the ‘traditionalist’ educator bloggers, whose posts kept Gove so entertained and informed during his reign at the DfE. Just recite phrases from ‘Shift happens’/’Did You Know’, and talk on the role of schools in preparing students for ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’. Stand back, blue touch paper lit. Personally, the only complaint I have about ‘Shift happens’ is the irritating musical soundtrack, or how many people still show the old version talking about 2010 being  in the future. (Though maybe for them Shift Doesn’t Happen, or happens too quickly?) But any mention of ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’  is guaranteed to make every conservative but erudite educator quiver with rage, or at least induce them to issue snide tweets of disapproval.

While we are on that subject, there is a huge amount of  harmless fun to be had prodding at the indignation of these traditionalists.  If ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’ doesn’t do the job, you can always try speaking reverentially of the presentations of Sir Ken Robinson on creativity. I’m not sure whether it’s his humour, his urbanity, the lack of evidence-base or his repetitiveness that gets them, but try writing anything positive about Sir Ken and it’s like a TED Wragg to a bull. But I digress….

CareersofFutureWhen it comes to the ‘jobs for the future’, over this side of the pond we tend to be quite traditional. A look at  the GOV UK site reveals that the UK Commission for Employment and Skills has issued a helpful pamphlet entitled ‘Careers for the Future‘. To show how futuristic civil servants can be, they have even created a handy infographic about it. Using infographics, of course, is another good way to wind up those traditionalist bloggers, who can be made to fulminate at length by any inclusion of this pictorial representation of ‘dumbing down’ at its finest and best. (Insert infographic. Tick.)

Now if I tell you that the UK’s list of ‘Careers for the Future’ includes secondary school teacher, nurse and tram driver you can pretty much tell that most of these have also been careers of the past, too. In fact a common feature of many of those on the list seems to be that, thanks to public sector wage restraint under this and the previous government, they are the key jobs for which it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit. So the government try a bit of not-so-nifty PR and publish them as ‘careers of the future’ on GOV.UK. Whilst making sure, of course, that all those other nice lucrative jobs you’ve not heard of are kept quietly out of sight, so the oiks don’t get ideas above their station. Though they might get a chance to drive others to it.

If we look across to allegedly-boring Canada, however, the ‘jobs for the future’ take on a much more exciting note. And yes, I did just use the words Canada and exciting in the same sentence. A not-for-profit foundation, The Canadian Scholarship Trust Plan commissioned some foresight strategists to look into the future to identify jobs that may be around in the year 2030. Not for them the rather dull train and tram driver, probably because the strategists had the foresight to notice that the 2015 Docklands Light Railway was already driverless, along with Google’s cars and the plans for the Paris Metro. Train/tram driver don’t sound too future-proof then? So they went for a bunch of much more esoteric options, jobs that mostly didn’t exist yet, and included among them was ‘nostalgist’. And immediately my current career was given the added seal of approval by foresight strategists.

Now these strategists identified nine such interesting jobs, ranging from aquaponic fish farmer to garbage designer, all of which were not a huge leap from a development  that was already happening in 2015. And sitting right there at number two was nostalgist, my own chosen career designation.

For those who are not familiar with my twitter bio, or LinkedIn page, you should know that I have been a disruptive nostalgist since leaving my previous full-time role in 2010. What is a disruptive nostalgist, you may ask? Or you might not, but frankly I’m going to assume that you are asking anyway, as I am writing this post – author’s privilege. Quite simply, we disruptive nostalgists are folk going back into the past to help disrupt the future. I say ‘we’, but up till now as far as I know there has only been one. Me. But clearly more are on the way by 2030.

You may be familiar with the expression ‘Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it’? Well, disruptive nostalgists remember the past and repeat it anyway, to anyone who’ll listen, in the hope of persuading them to avoid a repetition of earlier mistakes. I got the idea when irritated in a think-tank meeting  by a disruptive futurist, and then was encouraged by the then Futurelab’s Dan Sutch that perhaps I was ideally suited for the role. So far, four years in, so good.

Now the Canadian nostalgists are a tad different. Much less disruptive, as you might expect from Canada, they potter about recreating the past so that the elderly feel a little more comfortable in later life.  But you need to remember that the commissioning organisation persuades Canadian families save for their education, so they wouldn’t want to scare the horses, or more importantly the customers. I am confident that when the time comes there will be a disruptive faction among their nostalgists too.

Meanwhile, we do have the challenge in schools of preparing students for the world of work, whether for the UK’s unthreatening ‘careers of the future’ or Canada’s ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’. And though Michael Gove’s Special Adviser Dominic Cummings insisted that the DfE did NOT ‘do Careers education’, since his departure there has been a real demand to bring back something that will help raise career aspirations and awareness in England’s schools, particularly for disadvantaged students.

The cynical may think that the Dominic Cummings move was to ensure that only those already in the know could gain access to the tracks leading to future more lucrative employment. The less cynical may believe that he thought schools knew little about the rapidly-changing world of work, and it was best left to those outside the school to bring in the necessary expertise on careers.

But whatever the thinking, or the mechanism, it is crucially important that all pupils in our schools are made aware of the breadth of career possibilities. They may also find out that ‘the jobs that don’t exist yet’ really are out there, or will be, but it is possible that their existence in not known to those whose careers have been  in the classroom or the corridors of academia and Whitehall.

I have written before how positive I have found the young people at the networking events run by startups and others that I attend, as they reinvent the future of work. As William Gibson once said, ‘The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed’. And surely our job as educators now is to assist in levelling that playing field, and promoting more even distribution?

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