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Ask Slashdot: Future-Proof Jobs? 509

An anonymous reader writes: My niece, who is graduating from high school, has asked me for some career advice. Since I work in data processing, my first thought was to recommend a degree course in computer science or computer engineering. However, after reading books by Jeremy Rifkin (The Third Industrial Revolution) and Ray Kurzweil (How to Create a Mind), I now wonder whether a career in information technology is actually better than, say, becoming a lawyer or a construction worker. While the two authors differ in their political persuasions (Rifkin is a Green leftist and Kurzweil is a Libertarian transhumanist), both foresee an increasingly automated future where most of humanity would become either jobless or underemployed by the middle of the century. While robots take over the production of consumer hardware, Big Data algorithms like the ones used by Google and IBM appear to be displacing even white collar tech workers. How long before the only ones left on the payroll are the few "rockstar" programmers and administrators needed to maintain the system? Besides politics and drug dealing, what jobs are really future-proof? Would it be better if my niece took a course in the Arts, since creativity is looking to be one of humanity's final frontiers against the inevitable Rise of the Machines?
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Ask Slashdot: Future-Proof Jobs?

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  • Engineering (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bhlowe ( 1803290 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @02:51PM (#47459519)
    Engineering has a strong future: Robots. Nanotechnology. Advanced materials. Hydrogen storage. Fuel cells. Automation technology. Rapid building techniques. Vertical farming. Take any industry she likes, then work with a company that is going to do it better with technology, using fewer humans to do the work.
  • by emagery ( 914122 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @02:57PM (#47459585)
    At some point, I don't see the world being able to avoid a paradigm shift in how we measure careers, labor, etc... we have invested in and achieved so much in terms of automation, ai, etc, and yet we refuse to distribute the high efficiency benefits of these things to the very masses who brought them about and are being displaced by them. If it takes less labor, per person, to make the world work, then it truly should take less labor, period... not the same (or, as things have been going lately) more labor by the few still employed while those at the top of the economic food chain rake in the entire difference just for themselves. In the end, our current path is resource wasteful in a time when we can't afford it, and all for the actual benefit of very few people. It's an untenable and unsustainable practice that's going to have to change, and I don't see us regressing to old technologies just to reestablish old careers when we already have (and simply aren't properly dispersing) much better.
  • by notcreative ( 623238 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:06PM (#47459711) Journal
    Remember the Simpsons where Disco Stu shows Homer how Disco album sales are up 400% for the year ending 1976? "If these trends continue.... Ehy!" While I'm not sure how to spell that sound, I am sure that the idea of future-proof career is a dream. What careers seemed future-proof thirty years ago, and could anyone have picked the winners and losers? There's a hindsight fallacy there. Just like the stock market, if there was such a thing as a future-proof career then everyone would want it, driving the salary to zero and making it worthless.

    As other worthies have probably pointed out elsewhere in the comments, the best idea is to learn critical thinking and remain flexible. STEM education is valuable whether you're working in your specialty or not. Unlike Underwater Basket-Weaving or other majors that seem like a great idea as a freshman, STEM educations generally push students to learn basics about how the world works that can be universal (including submarine crafting mechanics). I have this same issue with my kids and I think the answer is just to let them know that building a network and constantly learning is the highest-payoff strategy but no guarantee. Anyone giving a job guarantee is, to paraphrase, lying or selling something.

    Also I'm planning to have my drugs delivered by Amazon Drones(tm), so that's not a future-proof occupation either.

  • Re:Engineering (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sinij ( 911942 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:15PM (#47459829)
    As an engineer, I can tell you have not considered all definitions of future. What about dystopian futures where access to technology is luxury and sustenance farming in increasingly arid climate rules the day?
  • by mx+b ( 2078162 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:28PM (#47459965)

    I agree with Confucious there! As a teacher, I can say I have seen plenty of people chasing after the job-of-the-week. The company goes under, and you lose your job (or to keep it, you have to move out of state, country, live on an Antarctic glacier, etc.), then you have to retrain and spend a fortune. And they're not happy, because they lost their job, they're worried, they're in debt, more debt now because of student loans, and now they have to do some stupid job they don't really want to do for the oil company because that's the only way out they see. Nuh-uh. Don't let her grow up like that.

    Everyone I know that followed their own path (granted, small sample size, etc etc), has seemed to end up way better off. They do what they love, they are in demand because they are good at what they do, and just everything seems to have a way of working out. Make sure she knows (1) what she loves; (2) how to think and solve new problems; (3) give her an entrepreneurial spirit, so she can CREATE HER OWN JOB and take care of herself if she doesn't want/find one in the market.

    I think that last point is perhaps the most important. The best (and really only) way to prepare for the future is to learn how to take care of yourself. Create your own job, live on a budget and NOT be in debt (debt makes you a slave to the job trends since you can't settle for a more fun but less paying job), grow your own food, pick up a few trade skills to do house repair, etc... Of course definitely encourage higher level thought if she wants to be an engineer, but if she wants to be an artist, let her, as long as she knows how to take care of herself.

  • Re:Plumber (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @03:37PM (#47460071)

    Pastor, plumber, electrician, and dentist were listed in an article I read recently.

    The problem is that they all presume a functioning middle class which has money to pay for their services.

    We could get into a situation where 50% of the population can't find jobs unless we pass lower overtime laws (32 hour week max) or provide a basic income to everyone from taxes on those who are working or some other entirely new approach.

    It's really a paradigm shift coming.

  • Re:Simple (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2014 @05:19PM (#47461381)
    My friend tried to get a $1500 car loan when he was in college. He has held a job since he was around 13, was at his current job for several years, has lived at the same local address for over a decade, he had a great GPA, he could have easily paid off the $1500 in a few months, but he was going to college and had some unexpected expenses.

    All of the banks in our area out right refused to give him a loan because he had no credit history. Even the bank he had used since a teenager and had direct deposit for the past few years. They plain told him that even if he had the worst credit score possible, they'd give him a loan, but no credit history meant no loan.

    In the end he had his parents co-sign, but the point is no credit history means no credit. It's a catch 22. Credit cards on the other hand, are given out like candy. Easy credit history.

    I'm in a situation myself where I can't get a house loan. I've had the same salary job for the past 10 years I alone make over 2x the the average house hold income, I've been averaging a 6% raise per year as a programmer, I've been living in the same apartment for 6 years, no late rent and my land lord loves me. Yet I can't get a house loan because of my lack of credit history. The banks have all told me to get a credit card and start using it to pay my bills to help build my credit history.
  • Teachers are under attack. They get attacked for teaching actual science, they are loosing there only defense against parents who don't like what they teach, politician are attacking them and their careers.

    With the bonus of forcing kids into specific tracks and not teaching to a child's level.

    Also, the general make crap pay, have to spend their own money, and listen to parent who won't sit down with theor own kids blame teachers for their kids not learning.
    And 40+ kids to a class, and an education system the spend less then half per child that it did in 1969(adjusting for inflation)

    Sorry, I don't wish that on anyone.

The wages of sin are high but you get your money's worth.