Paul Falcone

From time to time, it’s important to take a 30,000-foot look at future careers in the modern workplace. Doing so is particularly relevant for managers and leaders who are looking to scale their careers and assume greater responsibilities over time. What are the key attributes that will help you navigate the ever-changing world that awaits? How can you gear yourself up to prepare for tomorrow’s unknown challenges and opportunities?

A mere 100 years ago, the enormous global changes coming out of World War I posed tremendous challenges to returning troops. The United States found itself in a recovery period from a war that was built upon the foundations of the Industrial Revolution and mechanized production. Today, we face a new Industrial Revolution—what scientists call “Industrial Revolution 4,” or IR4 for short. The term IR4 was coined in 2016 and propels us today from IR3 (1969–2015), known for semiconductors, mainframe and personal computers, and the World Wide Web.

Now in an IR4 world, we’re just beginning to reckon with the tools and technology of the future. A few examples include artificial intelligence; quantum computing; nano-, bio- and IT technologies; 3D internet (i.e., the “metaverse”); and cyber-physical systems. Sure, that sounds like a lot. But the whole world is experiencing evolutionary change at revolutionary speed, so it’s worth going over some of the “rules of the road” for the IR4 world ahead.

What CEOs want today

Let’s start at the top of the food chain. CEOs have always valued leadership, communication and team-building in managers and leaders at all levels. But it’s more nuanced than that today.

Nowadays, CEO surveys focus on collaboration, creativity, innovation, accountability and agility. Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily, to incorporate and adapt to change and to seize opportunities that may otherwise miss awareness or be rejected by others (who resist change by nature). Agility is a mindset, an approach to change, that will serve you well as a leader for future business challenges that lie ahead.

An agile approach to change

Economists and corporate futurists will provide general guidance that speaks to expecting the unexpected, exploring the unknown, embracing uncertainty and learning how to “unlearn.” Their logic? Opportunities for change are massive.

Just like many of the jobs of today didn’t exist a decade ago (think social media marketing and online data security), many opportunities will be created that don’t exist quite yet. Ever heard of “vertical agriculture” (i.e., growing vegetables without sun or soil)? How about a 700-mile-per-hour high-speed rail that will move goods from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 20 minutes?

Solar carports, roof tiles and pavement are already in development. And automobiles may soon become moving health checkup facilitators every time you get behind the wheel, checking your weight and heart rate and potentially dispensing medicine aromatically. Even smart toilets are getting into the game, which can be constructed with biomarkers to detect illnesses early.

Albert Einstein famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” That about sums up the critical skills necessary for tomorrow’s jobs relative to the newly emerging and critical technology. Corporate futurists constantly ask, “What else am I missing? What’s hidden in plain sight that’s right around the corner?” That very same curiosity will help you navigate tomorrow’s career opportunities in terms of your own career and professional development.

It’s true that artificial intelligence will likely replace repetitive types of jobs. But similar fears occurred decades ago when prototype robots “learned” to perform spot-welding operations, as Victor Scheinman created the Stanford Arm, a programmable six-jointed robot. True, those robots took over people’s jobs. But we see more jobs today than before, many of them richer and better paying, increasing the wealth and well-being of our workforce.

New jobs of the future

New jobs are emerging in the areas of green energy, digital health and telemedicine, AI and machine learning, data privacy and cybersecurity. More in the realm of space exploration and colonization, blockchain and cryptocurrency, virtual and augmented reality, autonomous vehicles and sustainable agriculture are coming our way.

Job titles like AI drone technician and operator, prompt engineer (who feeds questions into AI systems), AI trainer, explainability expert, chief AI officer and AI ethicist will become more prevalent. Be open to these new trends and technologies.

Educate yourself using MOOCs (massive open online courses) like Udemy, Khan Academy, FutureLearn, Udacity, edX and Coursera to access free online courses and certifications. Make the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, which provides 10-year forecasting data on job-growth projections, your guide to hot industries and positions over the next decade.

Remain curious. Model flexibility and agility in all you do. Adopt a new mindset about career transition and planning. We’re on the cutting edge of something new, just on the cusp of IR4, with unimaginable opportunities before us, especially as leaders. Now is the time to reinvent yourself. Now is the time to prepare for your exciting future.

But remember—stay light on your feet, remain ready for significant change on short notice and adapt to learning new technology to lead the way. Jobs can be automated, outsourced or contracted out. However, skilled workers and managers will always remain in demand to navigate these rapid changes and lead the way forward. Embrace this “new normal” and you’ll be well prepared to excel in the new IR4 economy.