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People of a certain age can be forgiven if their predictions about life in the 21st century were way off base. Perhaps inspired by the classic film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” some may have expected space travel to be commonplace and discussions with robots to be ongoing but, alas, it has not turned out that way. The 21st century is now 12 years old, and most of the technological advances predicted by science fiction have simply not come to pass. However, some of the futuristic employment trends may be taking shape.
What follows is a list of jobs that are likely to be prevalent in coming decades. Some are purely speculative, some have emerged only recently and some have already been around for quite a while. However, what they all have in common is the possibility that they will offer job prospects to those entering the workforce for the rest of the century. Click ahead to see what some of the jobs of the 21st century might be.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 04 January 2012
Ever since Dr. Charles Vicanti fabricated a human ear on the back of a laboratory mouse in 1995, medical researchers have been growing organic tissue. The technology is still in its infancy, but the implications for medicine in the coming years are staggering nonetheless.
If this medical technique advances in the way many people expect it to, it is reasonable to expect that someday, replacing a malfunctioning kidney with a freshly manufactured one will be commonplace. This scenario is likely to be decades away, but it’s easy to see how it will be in high demand and create many jobs in the 21st century, particularly for people who design the newly created organs for patients.
For many years now, our gadgets have been getting smaller and smaller. If this trend continues, construction and repair of electronics will require the services of nanotechnologists. These are people with the ability to manipulate matter at the molecular level.
Nanotechnology is expected to grow in the future, as gadgets continue to move in the direction of miniaturization and portability. Those looking for jobs as nanotechnologists should study organic chemistry, molecular biology and microfabrication.
Stem cell research has been controversial since its inception. However, the scientific community has continued its work in this field, as research into stem cell treatments for Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and spinal cord injuries has yielded results too hopeful to ignore.
Stem cell research is expected to be a growing scientific field for the foreseeable future, and it is expected to evolve in the coming decades. This means there will be an ongoing need for researchers and, assuming this technology becomes commonplace, the need should continue to grow.
Respiratory therapists “assess, treat, and care for patients with breathing disorders,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which says the mean annual wage for this profession is $55,200. Respiratory therapists treat breathing complications, from the common cold on up, and it’s safe to assume the position will exist for as long as people continue to have lungs.
Respiratory therapy is expected to grow quickly, in part thanks to an increase in the elderly population. The elderly suffer from respiratory ailments like bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia more than any other segment of the population, and as the U.S. population ages, the incidence of respiratory diseases will increase. It follows then that more respiratory therapists will be needed to meet increased demand.
Absent some radical change in human behavior, people are likely to keep generating garbage for the foreseeable future. In addition to the usual assortment of banana peels and candy bar wrappers, humans are likely to generate increasing amounts of waste from electronic equipment, commonly known as “e-waste.”
There is still a lot to be learned about managing this waste, much of which is loaded with contaminants like lead and can pose public health risks if not disposed of properly. Consultants with biology or chemistry backgrounds may find work in developing countries where the unregulated disposal of e-waste can cause pollution, or in developed countries where workers disposing of these materials need protection from its risks.
It was not so long ago that the mere mention of organic foods summoned a mental image of a smelly hippie, canvassing the suburbs of the Pacific Northwest for donations to Greenpeace. However, with the popularity of such businesses as Fresh Direct and Whole Foods, organic products have become more popular.
In 1990, organic food and beverages accounted for $1 billion worth of all food and beverage sales in the U.S. In 2010, these sales were close to $27 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. This makes it a good bet that in the coming years, more producers of organic food and beverages will be needed to meet the increased demands of consumers.
Although nobody can say if or when biofuels will go mainstream in the U.S., it seems like a safe bet that we’ll get there at some point in the next 88 years. This would mean the creation of new jobs, including those for biochemical engineers, so a degree in chemical engineering would be the logical first step toward this goal.
Even if biofuels never take off with U.S. motorists, a career in chemical engineering is still worth considering. The median annual salary in 2010 was $90,300, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nutrition is not a new field by any means, and nutritionists are not practicing a new skill. However, a nutritionist is still working in one of the jobs of the future. After all, as long as people eat, they’ll need guidance on how to do it with maximum physical benefit and in the healthiest way possible.
Nutrition is also important in the coming decades because of the U.S. obesity epidemic. Obesity has steadily risen for two decades, and a 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 21 percent to 32 percent of adults in every state were obese.
These numbers are expected to increase. But even if they don’t, the situation is still alarming and it paints a picture of a population that could use the services of a nutritionist to get back on track.
So far, the 21st century has been a resounding disappointment to those who expected every American home to have a bowtie-clad robot butler to wait on its owner hand and foot. This doesn’t mean that robots don’t play a major role in this century’s technology, and those trained as robot technicians may find work out there in the coming decades.
Robots are already used for tasks that are too precise for human hands, including certain surgical and mechanical procedures. The robotics technician programs the units that perform these tasks, in addition to servicing them and operating them.
In the push to make “green energy” mainstream, some forms of energy have fared better than others. One that still hasn’t quite captured the mass imagination in the U.S. is wind power, in large part because the economy has been too unstable to provide solid footing for a new technology to get off the ground and power homes.
This may change, particularly if the economy picks up again. If wind power becomes the next big thing in green energy, then jobs should follow suit and there should be plenty of need for technicians