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Lynda Gratton

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Getting a job in 2025: a look at future skills


Lynda Gratton’s new research identifies the careers and skills likely to be valued in the next decade. 

Even with my own three decades of knowledge about work, I find the future of work still incredibly difficult to predict. That’s why I created a research consortium designed to tap into ideas and knowledge from across the world.

Each year, my research team and I begin by identifying the five forces that will most impact on the future of work (these are technology; globalisation; demography and longevity; society; and natural resources) we then go about amassing the hard facts for each of these five forces.

These hard facts for each of the five forces are then presented to members of the research consortium. This consortium is perhaps one of the most fascinating experiments ever conducted between management, academics and executives.

"At the heart of loving work is meaning and expertise. It’s hard to love something that you feel is meaningless, and it’s also hard to fall in love with something you don’t think you are going to be any good at."

In a sense it creates a "wise crowd" of people. In 2009 for example, more than 200 people participated. They were members of more than 21 companies from around the world including Absa (the South African bank), Nokia, Nomura, Tata Consulting Group (in India), Thomson Reuters, the Singapore Government’s Ministry of Manpower, together with two not-for-profit organisations, Save the Children and World Vision.

In 2010 the number of participating companies had risen to 45, with over 15 from Asia including SingTel in Singapore and Wipro, Infosys and Mahindra & Mahindra from India, and Cisco and Manpower from the USA.

The research began in earnest in November 2009, at the London Business School. At this point we presented the hard facts of the five forces and asked executives to construct storylines of a day-in-the-life of people working in 2025 on the basis of what they had heard. We then went on to repeat this exercise with many more people in Singapore and India.

This global research project is continuing. Among its most interesting findings is how it has helped us to identify the three broad career paths which will be of value (beyond those that are always of value) over the coming decade. These are: grassroots advocacy, social entrepreneurship and micro-entrepreneurship.

Grassroots advocacy

In 2009, the strategists at Shell developed two scenarios about the future of energy resources. What is interesting about the Shell 2050 scenario, in the ‘Blueprint’ scenario, is the role that local, regional and global advocates play. They believe that rather than a top–down, centralised approach – in an increasingly transparent world, high-profile local actors will influence the national stage.

Change will come through the success of many individual initiatives which become linked and amplified around the world and progressively change the character of international debate. These grassroots advocates will become the early developers of experiments, innovative solutions and the adoption of proven practice.

We can expect to see advocacy rising in any area that people care about – from the education of children in developing countries, to the eradication of endemic diseases, to the support of small businesses. Expect to see a proliferation of enterprises built around developing and supporting advocacy skills and capabilities.

These could be NGOs like Save the Children which already has a sophisticated programme of support to people who want to volunteer to work with them, and also to those who work as advocates on their behalf. Or they could be companies like Projects Abroad which has sent over 18,500 people to volunteer as interns in areas as diverse as teaching, conservation, medicine and journalism.

Social entrepreneurship

For some, advocacy will be about becoming high-profile local actors who galvanise energy, and create ideas about how to move forward. For others, advocacy will entail using their leadership skills and management know-how to create organisations that serve social needs. At the heart of social entrepreneurship is the will to organise, create and manage a venture to make social change. So while a business enterprise measures performance in profit and return, a social entrepreneur focuses on measuring outcomes in broader ways.

All over the world, social entrepreneurial businesses are springing up – NIKA Water Company, for example which sells bottled water in the US and uses 100% of its profits to bring clean water to those in the developing world. Or Newman’s Own, which donates 100% of its total profits to support various educational charities.

But it is not just individuals who are making the running here. Across Asia and Europe in particular social entrepreneurs are gathering together in teams, networks, and movements for change. Gen Y is beginning to play a role and we can expect this to gather greater momentum over the coming decades. For example, the Young Social Pioneers group in Australia actively invest in young social entrepreneurs, while Istanbul’s Bilgi Üniversity does the same in Turkey.


Small businesses have always played a key role in the economy of developed and emerging markets. For example, in 2004, 40% of the working population in the US worked in small business, while 47% of the UK working population did the same.

But what it means to be a micro-entrepreneur in 2025 will be very different from now. Although we can still expect large companies to exist in 2025 – and in fact there is an argument that these companies will become even larger – proportionally we can expect more people to work for themselves, or with a small group of other people.

Many will be employed in ecosystems that become the hinterland of companies. Like the many thousands of independent people who build the applications for the iPhone – these people will be working on small parts of the value chain. Alternatively, they will be part of a much larger collaboration of many thousands of people brought together to experience economies of scale.

Whatever the mechanism of coordination, we can expect a greater proportion of the valuable work in companies to be carried out by people working independently. The main driver of course will be the continuing falling price of IT, combined with the ubiquitous cloud which will allow even the smallest business to use highly sophisticated analytics to track orders, work with third parties and collect money.

What has also become more prevalent and will continue to grow is the ability of the Internet to coordinate funding for entrepreneurs – it’s a method for people to donate or invest in ideas they think are exciting or profitable.
Beyond the three emerging careers, we can also expect clusters of skills to become ever more valuable, rare and difficult to imitate. In particular clusters in the life science and health, energy conservation, creativity and innovation, and coaching and caring will become increasingly  important:

Life science and health

Regardless of how good we feel, and how long we live, we always want to look better and live longer. We can expect two important life science and health clusters to emerge. The first will be the creation of what we might call "health hubs" across the world designed in part to cater for the needs of the ageing population of the developed world.

For example, in Europe by 2010 a number of these health resorts were under construction around the Mediterranean, just as North Americans have flocked to Florida and the southern states. Turkey had begun to market itself as a health and spa specialist because of its proximity to a major geothermal belt, while Eastern Europe in general was preparing itself to accommodate the growing number of baby boomers in search of "Hippocratic holidays".

At the same time, clusters around the life sciences will become ever more important as universities, health and pharmaceutical companies, joint ventures and service companies’ work more closely together. The Bay Area around San Francisco, and "Gene Town" in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, have emerged as the first biotechnology clusters containing critical masses of academic and industrial institutions in relatively small areas.

In Europe, there are three biomedical clusters, in the Oxford–Cambridge–London triangle in the United Kingdom, the French capital of Paris, and in the Medicon cluster corridor between Sweden and Denmark. In Asia the largest biomedical cluster is in Singapore. Over the next decade we can predict bioclusters to strengthen in Kobe and Osaka in Japan. In China we can expect the government to pour resources into the rapid development of similar clusters.

What will these biomedics be doing? Certainly they will be in demand. In 2010, for example, despite the US recession, biomedical engineering (with a 72% growth rate) was the fastest growing skill in the country. These are the people who over the next decade will be developing MRI machines, asthma inhalers, and artificial hearts.

By 2025 we can expect even more creative developments. Take the nanomedics, for example, who will be devising subatomic nanoscale healthcare devices, procedures and body inserts, including "cargo ships" that seek out cancerous cells in the bloodstream. Or the memory-augmentation surgeon  tasked with adding extra memory capacity to people who want to increase their recall ability and helping those suffering sensory shutdown. Stem cell research is already showing signs of success and will become a massive industry.

Energy conservation

There will be enormous potential work in the field of energy conservation as new industries continue to be built around the capture of energy. Wind power, solar power and wave power have already emerged as nascent industries. In India, substantial investments are being made in wind power, while in China, energy conservation scientists are pioneering new developments in solar energy. We can anticipate a rapid acceleration of the skills in energy conversation, driven in part by government mandates for zero emission cars, and also by fiscal incentives to support the build-up of mass production.

These developments will stimulate a surge in electric transport – powered by battery, fuel cell or hybrid technologies. Engineers will certainly be in high demand in the sustainable energy sector, but the sector will also need PR specialists, planning specialists and indeed everything the traditional energy sector needs. In fact, there should be more jobs available in the renewable energy sector than the traditional energy sector because renewables create more jobs per unit of power, per unit of installed capacity and per pound invested than conventional power generation.

These jobs in life science, health and energy conservation will become truly global labour markets. The predicted labour shortages in much of the developed world could potentially be filled by graduates in these hot subjects from anywhere in the world. It’s also important to bear in mind that location will not always be crucial to the delivery of these skills.

Creativity and innovation

Creativity and innovation are in the ascendance as the mechanisation and automation of the past is replaced by a way of working that is more organic, emergent and creative. These creative industries will flourish, and increasingly permeate everyday life. In part because, as experiences become as important as consumption, so those that invent, design and execute experiences will have valuable skills.

All around the world, people are waking up from the tedium of bureaucratic sameness to the colour and richness of creativity. The growing and influential band of people dedicated to creativity and design at work don’t accept the default position and are always looking for an alternative way of displaying data and interacting with clients.

Though there are many aborted attempts at creative reimaginings, this process is important as it stirs pools that would otherwise become stagnant. We know that this creative class will continue to grow in size and impact in the years to come, and the dividing line between these creatives and those engaged in managing and working in organisations will become more and more permeable.

What can be called art has morphed and flowed into what could be called the aesthetic-intellectual sector. Take a look at the highly successful Californian company IDEO to see how a group that began as product designers have morphed over the years to designers and creators of experiences and organisational practices. Or how innovation and creativity have become increasingly important to the way in which brands are created and reputations made. How many more Tom Fords will there be in 2025 as arbiters of good taste and self-presentation?

What will the creative classes do? The German futurist Mathias Horx lists over a hundred creative vocations including animators, architects, authors, ceramicists, creative managers, DJs, documentary filmmakers, event-agents, fashion consultants, fitness trainers, graphic designers, interior designers, media trainers, musicians, muses, painters, photographers, philosophers, preachers, publisher’s readers, rappers, researchers, star cooks, storytellers, stylists, theatre directors, trainers, website developers. Of course, some of these creative roles will fade and morph into allied roles, while others are at the beginning of their trajectory and we can expect them to grow over the coming decades.

What will be the day-to-day working life of these creative people? Perhaps you imagine they will live a solitary existence – somewhere on a rocky island in the middle of a warm sea. Here they contemplate, consider and of course . . . create.

In fact nothing is further from the truth, and in all likelihood will continue to be a fallacy. The creative class likes to be near, and I mean really near, to others with the same skills. What’s more, they congregate and cluster in large numbers in particular regions across the world, and in all likelihood this clustering mechanism will only increase between now and 2025.

Creative clusters are emerging around the world, populated by people who want to learn from each other, and do business with each other. These cluster are being energised and fuelled from the inside out through the ideas and creativity that emerges when people with related, but diverse skills and abilities come together. They are becoming what I have called "hot spots" of innovation and creativity.

Coaching and caring

In a world that will become increasingly virtual, creating supportive relationships to help navigate through life, keep overworked employees feeling great, and address the challenges of growing time fragmentation will be key. That’s why the skills around coaching and caring will become ever more important over the next two decades.

Some of the services will be delivered virtually. So we can expect a plethora of micro-entrepreneurs developing virtual personal coaches capable of building and managing personal and professional avatars, ensuring personal brands are working, and monitoring and providing advice on the development of a high value networks.

Expect also to see virtual and physical service jobs addressing the challenge of time fragmentation; virtual-clutter organisers who will help to organise complex electronic lives, handling e-mail, storing data and managing identities; "narrowcasters" – specialists working with content providers and advertisers to create personalised content.

Like the new creatives, these new caring roles are an absolutely essential outcome from the way work and life will develop over the coming decades. They are aligned with the principle that by 2025 many people will choose to focus on productive experiences rather than voracious consumption – for it is they who are often the purveyor of such experiences.

At the highest end, these will be individually developed, tailor-made, unique experiences, crafted just for you. These are also the people who will help tread the fine line between out and out narcissism and a more nuanced presentation and branding of self. They will work with on the development of personal blogs, ensure photographs and avatars are realistic – but more, they will craft CVs and support people to navigate the worldwide job market. They will recommend great theatre, craft wonderful gap years and sabbatical experiences, and support personal brands through hairdressing, massage and fitness.

We can also anticipate that a particular focus of these caring roles will be on family wellbeing. Even as families become smaller, "re-assembled" and fragmented, we can anticipate that Gen Y and Gen Z as parents will have a strong desire to do the best for their children and cherish their families. So there will be a priority on services that care for them, educate and inspire them, and generally increase their well-being and happiness.

Where will these caring and coaching jobs be located? They will locate wherever the clients are. If the creative classes cluster together, then the coaching and caring roles will be there to support them and to ensure the delivery of a personal service. We can also expect them to be working in the emerging healthy living regions of the world. As we shall see in the third shift – it could well be that the caring and coaching classes form the backbone of the regenerative communities that will be so crucial to the well being of workers by 2025.

Love what you do

Making the shift into the future is all about understanding choices, trade-offs and consequences. However, while it is both sensible and possible to make these well-grounded guesses about the future, the truth is, that these can only every be guesses. So, in a world where the specifics of the future are difficult to predict with great accuracy, a smart option is to go what you love and feel passionate about. Perhaps even more than this, if you are going to be working until you are 70, then you better find something you really enjoy doing.

How do you know what you love? I believe that at the heart of loving work is meaning and expertise. It’s hard to love something that you feel is meaningless, and it’s also hard to fall in love with something you don’t think you are going to be any good at. Meaning is an intensely personal perspective.

Knowledge, creativity and innovation will be the basis by which many of us choose to make our living in the future – and all of these outcomes depend on our feelings and attitudes to our work. We cannot be creative if we hate what we do, or find it insubstantial or meaningless. We cannot coach and care for others if we find our work boring or repetitive. Sure we can do a decent day’s work – but we will not put in that extra energy that comes with the territory of loving what we do.

Lynda Gratton is Professor of Management Practice at London Business School.  Her latest book is The Shift (Collins, 2011).  Ranked by the Thinkers 50 as one of the top 20 business thinkers in the world, Lynda is the founder of the Hot Spots Movement, dedicated to bringing energy and innovation to companies. The movement has offices in London, Singapore and California, more than 5000 members, and advises over 40 companies and governments around the world


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