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A Myth for Teachers: Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet

May 27, 2015

About 4 years ago I wrote a post about myths for teachers. This post has continued to grow over time as one of the myths was altered and manipulated and appeared in different forms. It has now reached the point where it needs a post just for that one myth. So here it is, with a mix of old and new material, the myth about jobs that don’t exist yet.

The original version was the claim that the  Top Ten in Demand Jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. Here are some examples.

For many, school is still a place where you go to have your head filled with ‘certainties’, a core knowledge base which grows increasingly irrelevant to the world we live in. According to New Brunswick Department of Education, Canada, the top 10% of jobs last year didn’t exist in 2004!  Is the best way to prepare our youngsters for this level of uncertainty to continue feeding them a diet of shallow learning experiences dictated by political presumption?

From http://smichael920.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/curriculum-in-a-coma/

According to former Secretary of Education Richard Riley . . .The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004.

We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . .

Using technologies that haven’t been invented . . .

In order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.

From http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNutcmyShW4

This is a claim used to justify dumbing-down, the idea being that if technology changes working life really quickly then there is no need to teach content as it will be irrelevant by the time our students get to the workplace. The widespread use of the claim in educational environments can almost all be traced back to the “Did You Know?” or “Shift Happens” videos that went viral among fashionably minded educators some time back. These consisted of a variety of poorly sourced and dubious claims about the future accompanied by enough bright colours and loud music to hypnotise the congenitally gullible. The sources were available here (but no longer, let me know if you have an up to date link) and when they were they indicated that it can be traced back to a claim attributed to a US politician in an obscure out of print book. This would be reason enough to discount it, however (just in case you think the second hand utterances of the political classes are a reliable source of information), I should also point out that the book was published in 2004 and was a prediction and not a fact. Did it turn out to be true? Well I know of no definitive list of the most “in demand jobs”, but I can find several attempts to find something similar. HR magazine published a list (from a now defunct website) of the Top 10 “in demand” occupations in 2009:

1. Registered nurses

2. General and operations managers

3. Physicians and surgeons

4. Elementary school teachers

5. Accountants and auditors

6. Computer software engineers

7. Sales representatives and managers

8. Computer system analysts

9. Management analysts

10. Secondary school teachers

In January 2008 forecasters looking at economic development in Calgary predicted the following (obviously some of this list reflects specific aspects of the economy in Calgary, but there is no reason to think that Calgary is going to have significantly fewer new occupations than anywhere else in the developed world) :

In the 2007-2010 period, the top ten occupations with the highest total number of new jobs demanded are forecast to be (in order) retail salespersons, financial auditors and accountants, retail trade managers, information systems analysts and consultants, general office clerks, petroleum engineers, geologists geophysicists and geochemists, computer programmers, restaurant and food managers, and administrative officers.

Calgary Economic Development (2008)

In April 2012 a Wall Street Journal Report based on a study by a careers website (okay, possibly not the most reliable source) came up with the following list of best jobs of 2012:

While this list includes less traditional jobs than the others it still falls far short of identifying any jobs which could reasonably be considered to have appeared between 2004 and 2010.

This still leaves open the possibility that the statistic refers to the occupations that children themselves most wish to pursue. Is it possible that our young digital natives aspire to new jobs, even if the labour market hasn’t yet provided them? Apparently not. An article in the Telegraph listed the dream careers of children as follows:

The top ten dream careers for children:

1. Professional Athlete
2. Performer
3. Secret Agent
4. Firefighter
5. Astronaut
6. Veterinarian
7. Doctor
8. Teacher
9. Pilot
10. Zoo Keeper

Of course, these lists aren’t telling us anything that two seconds of thought wouldn’t already tell us, Without serious research, could you name 10 occupations in 2010 which didn’t exist in 2004? There must be some; there may well be new occupations dealing with 3D cinema technology, or treating people for addiction to Twitter, but there is no reason to think these occupations are the most “in demand” in any way. The claim is absurd. There is also an additional irony in that it is people who are complaining that teachers pass on facts without encouraging critical thinking, who are themselves uncritically passing on this false information as fact.

The newer variation of the myth adds a spurious statistic to the mix, while making the time-frame vaguer. The original version of it I encountered was Dan Jarvis MP on the Labour Teachers blog in a post that (mercifully) was deleted from the site by accident.

One of the first things I learned when I became the Shadow Culture Minister was that 60% of the jobs that my three children (aged 9, 7 and 2 months) will go on to work in have not yet been invented.

Although I’m fairly certain I told him at the time that this was not plausible (in fact I think I may have used the word “bollocks”), he was still saying this in 2014:

We need to think how we give that to all our young people –

How we them every opportunity to compete in a complex, fast-moving and ruthlessly competitive world.

A world in which many of the jobs they will go on to do don’t currently exist.

And while I’m despairing at Labour politicians, I should mention that Tristram Hunt and Mary Creagh, have also recently talked about jobs that don’t exist yet in speeches and interviews.

I have tried to find a source for the 60% version. This blogpost claims:

There is an established piece of knowledge peddled around the educational conference circuit that says that 60% of all the jobs that young people in school today will do have not yet been invented and more importantly, they are going to have to invent those jobs.

There is also this feature by Debra Kidd, which attributes the claim that “60% of 11 year olds will leave school to do jobs which have not yet been invented” to Collard, P (2008) Key Note Address to conference CITE (Creativity in Initial Teacher Education ), 4/03/2008, Chorley”. I have been unable to find this source online, but somebody on Twitter pointed me to this video of Paul Collard making the same claim about “kids in school” in 2012 and describing its origins in this way: “there’s a British government statistic, and nobody knows how they calculated it, but you know that fundamentally it’s true”.

A recent version of the myth I discovered here (and also on a now deleted webpage) is yet another variation: “65% of todays grade school kids will end up at a job that hasn’t been invented yet.” The source given is “United States Department of Labor: Futurework – Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century” which refers to a report from 1999 which does not contain any such claim. I found a version of the claim yesterday on this blogpost ” 65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet” which references it to this 2011 New York Times article about this book which does indeed make the claim (page 18), although presumably for a different year. However, the book’s only reference for this claim is this blogpost (great scholarship there!) which doesn’t actually mention any such statistic.

It is not obvious how one would go about debunking the 60% or 65% statistic because it is not obvious how anyone could ever have believed it was true. I could try to list jobs that are unlikely to vanish any time soon (teacher, doctor, refuse collector,  gardner, nurse… ) but I’d be here forever. Anyone certain that new technologies will provide lots of new jobs could do worse than reading Cowen’s “The Great Stagnation”, written around the time some of these claims first appeared:

Web 2.0 is not … supporting many families, even though it’s been great for users, programmers, and some information technology specialists. Everyone on the Web has heard of Twitter, but as of Fall 2010, only about three hundred people work there.   Let’s go down the list and look at the (approximate) employment figures for some of the top Web companies:

Online Industry Employment Levels

Google— 20,000

Facebook— 1,700 +

eBay— 16,400

Twitter— 300

You get the picture. Again, these companies generate a greater amount of employment and revenue indirectly, but still our major innovations are springing up in sectors where a lot of work is done by machines, not by human beings.   A recent study found that the iPod— a nearly ubiquitous device— has created 13,920 jobs in the United States, including engineering and retail. That’s a pretty small number. Again, we should applaud the iPod for creating so much value with so little human labor, but again you can see that a lot of our innovation but again you can see that a lot of our innovation has a tenuous connection to revenue. Note, by the way, that digital music has eliminated many jobs in the music industry, as listeners buy single songs (or obtain the music illegally) rather than purchasing entire albums. The 13,920 figure doesn’t count those lost jobs at all, and arguably the iPod has had only a very small net positive impact on job creation.

And one final point, and perhaps the most telling one about the inability of education to escape bad ideas. In Progressively Worse, Robert Peal quotes the following from a book written in 1966:

The idea that our schools should remain content with equipping children with a body of knowledge is absurd and frightening. Tomorrow’s adults will be faced with problems about the nature of which we can today have no conception. They will have to cope with the jobs not yet invented.

40 comments

  1. I do a job that certainly didn’t exist when I was at school (although there were pre-cursors of sorts). However, even in a company like mine that makes a novel product, most of the roles are ones that existed 20 years ago – graphic designers, programmers/developers, project managers, managers…
    You’re right that it is a fundamentally wrong way to describe the future world of work. I did not plan my life based on the fact that a new job, just right for me, would be created. The skills I learnt at school are essential every day. Pupils (/teachers) need to know that the skills they are being taught (/are teaching) will be valuable even if the world changes.
    Put another way, I know a fair few people in these ‘jobs that didn’t exist’. They didn’t get them through seeking out skills for jobs that don’t exist. I’ve seen various attempts to teach these skills (e.g. project working…) and they have been invariably poor.


  2. Reblogged this on Incisor.


  3. ‘The idea that our schools should remain content with equipping children with a body of knowledge is absurd and frightening.’
    As valid now as it was in ’66.
    The key phrase, which critics presumably slide over, is ‘remain content with’. What sort of educational philosophy, policy or practice is content only with teaching a body of knowledge?


    • One where the teachers simply want to teach and don’t aspire to be their students’ parent, priest or psychiatrist?


  4. As Nic implies, “new” jobs seldom differ radically from ones that already exist, and they all demand a vast base of skills and knowledge which change slowly if at all.

    This said, technology does move rapidly. The software you use in school will almost certainly be obsolete by the time you are looking for your first job. In “Does Education Matter?” (2002) Alison Wolf argued that vocational qualifications were obsolete before they were launched, and that we would be better advised to follow the German example of restricting the classroom element of FE to traditional academic subjects, and leave the technical training to the employer providing the employment-based element. Unlike schools, private sector employers have a strong imperative to stay abreast of change.

    In any case, schools do not exist to service the economy. If this were so, how could we explain America’s economic clout and unmatched record for technological innovation? On the basis of its schools, the United States should be a banana republic. Likewise, Switzerland has a lower percentage of students progressing to HE than any other advanced economy, and Japan is near the bottom of the tables in terms of the percentage of GDP spent on schools.

    The philistine case for education is extremely weak: how else can we explain the abysmal salaries actually offered to STEM graduates? I don’t know a single one who is earning more than a teacher–and I know a few that have become teachers for that very reason.


    • I know quite a lot of STEM graduates earning more than teachers! Admittedly, often not always in jobs that appear very STEM. They also tend to fare better than arts and humanities graduates. That said, there are some appallingly poorly paid technical jobs and the sacrifices that many make to complete STEM PhDs do not fairly reflect the contribution they make to the economy.


      • I suppose I should have clarified that–I was referring to the salaries offered to people working as engineers, physicists, etc. These represent a relatively small percentage of STEM graduates, who (as you suggest) are in demand for management jobs that have little or nothing to do with their chosen discipline. It’s hardly any secret that STEM degrees are more demanding than humanities degrees, where clever people can just wing it. Unsurprisingly employers prefer bright people who are prepared to work hard to clever bullshitters (I have a History degree!). I haven’t studied career pathways since 2006, but I doubt much has changed since.

        As an educator, I seldom encounter STEM graduates in management positions (other than Heads of Science). I live near the Norwich Research Park, where John Innes and a lot of biotech firms are located. I once let a flat to an R&D chap with a doctorate, and was staggered to find how badly paid he was–about the same as a recently qualified teacher.


  5. I got told this when I was doing my training like it was FACT. I instinctively thought ‘Bullplop!’
    I also got told that the modern workplace was all collaborative and open plan, with everyone sharing their ideas in a sort of hippy, media dahling way and this was why primary schools need to be the way they are (open plan, progressive, group seating etc). I was very much able to disseminate that view with my considerable experience of The Real World. Still, it just got rejected because apparently the Workplace of The Future would definitely be like that and maybe I should just go back and get my banker’s bonus? (I have never worked in a bank).


    • Someone should start collecting the stories of the preposterous things teachers were told in their training. There are lots of people who, when you suggest that there are problems with training, Indignantly demand “prove it!. It would be useful to be able to do so.


  6. Isn’t the quote from 1996 actually true? The world has changed dramatically since that time and the jobs in IT and Communications that are around today simply did not excist then. I can’t imagine that school then prepared people for the world today, they would have leant as they went along.

    Surely this is reason enough to evaluate current educational practice, especially as the pace of change seems to be increasing?


    • I can’t find a quotation from 1996. As to your other point, is that not addressed throughout the post? The level and extent of change in the job market due to technology has been repeatedly over-estimated. Lots of popular jobs are still the same as they’ve ever been, and lots of new technology hasn’t generated huge levels of new employment. The statistics thrown around to justify claims of massive change have been fabricated.


      • Sorry I meant that last paragraph that mentioned a quote from 1966 not 1996.

        I suspect it is over estimated to some extent. but this does not make it entirely invalid. The pace of change has been rapid to say this least and this has necessarily impacted on the jobs market.

        I find that just in education as a job market for example it is a vastly different game to even 20 years ago let alone since 1966.

        I agree with @NicJPrice that we can’t predict the future and it would be futile to try, thus underscoring the need for fundamental skills and a good educational foundation. However I am not sure school are providing that. There needs to be more focus on education and learning and less on assessment, or at least the type of assessment that typically takes place.


        • I wrote a series of posts about the future. The most remarkable thing is the lack of change. This is the year of Back To The Future Part 2 – just 4 years before Blade Runner – and we’re not driving cars that fly or living on Mars. Probably the only area where technology has advanced rapidly and changed society is ICT, and as Tyler Cowen pointed out, this has not created anywhere near as many new jobs as you’d expect from the level of investment involved. Some change is inevitable, but predictions that change is increasing, that we’ll work more jobs in a lifetime, or that new types of employment will dominate, have been wrong in the past and are likely to be wrong in the future. Of course there’s a lot more to education than preparing for employment, but so far as schools do prepare students specifically for employment, then best to prepare for what exists not for some futurist’s fantasy.


    • Not really. I work in an IT company that is (relatively) cutting edge doing a job that didn’t exist in ’96 (when I was still at school). I’ve clearly learnt as I went along, however I would argue this is the case even for my contemporaries in jobs that ‘already existed’.

      I’ve been involved in a few rounds of graduate recruitment and reached the conclusion that those who have tried to gain relevant qualifications are significantly less ready (for the job that didn’t exist) than those who have good fundamental skills (English, Maths etc.) and demonstrated the ability to study these at higher level.

      If anything, the pace of change demonstrates the futility of trying to dream up new ‘relevant’ subjects and qualifications.


      • Nic, I agree with you that because of the pace of change it is impossible to try and predict what is relevant and what is not. Education that provides a good foundation is the key but a lot of what happens at school is not this. Students rush from assessment to assessment and rarely develop their learning more than at a superficial level.


  7. Quite a few of those ‘best jobs’ (1,2,9,10) are going to be out of reach of the majority of pupils no matter how hard they work. I know several people I’d class as very bright, but who failed the actuarial exams.


  8. The other thing about the ‘jobs that don’t exist’ narrative apart from it being nonsense, is that even if it is true, it’s impossible to know what knowledge and skills will be required.

    So by its own argument, we have no idea what to teach. Therefore we might as well teach that that has endured through time in order that we may be flexible from a sound body of stuff that has endured.


  9. The jobs are still there, the skills wanted change (at least in IT where I work). The best things I took from Education were how to reason, a desire to keep learning, and a basic grounding in various subjects.

    Things change, and if you don’t change in response, you get left behind unless you are lucky. School can help prepare people for that, but you can’t fix skills gaps by only teaching children skills, unless you want the current workforce unemployed and the children’s careers short.

    To be fair, teachers are not the issue there, it’s more recruiters and employers looking for skills rather than ability, as they are easier to fit into boxes. Even so I wish I’d learned to push my ability rather than my skills a couple of decades back, but sadly i had British modesty.


  10. Almost by definition, it’s impossible to train teachers in the skills that will be required tomorrow. There are so many fruitcakes coming up with patently absurd ideas–such as the feasibility of any teacher ‘personalising’ learning for anything up to 150 pupils every school day–that we cannot possibly train teachers for tomorrow’s schools.


    • ‘Almost by definition, it’s impossible to train teachers in the skills that will be required tomorrow.’

      Really? What about writing clear English? Multiplying and dividing? Communicating in another language?

      I don’t know when you think ‘tomorrow’ might be, but even if we’re invaded by Martians, those skills and many others that schools have always taught will still be central to life.


  11. There’s a related point in all of this which is worth airing. I agree that the ‘jobs which don’t exist’ myth is silly, but our education system is not preparing young people for the world very well. We need a broader education to help young people cope with the changes and challenges in life, allowing them to understand the world as it changes, be resilient to change and to shape it. That broader and deeper education, confidence, ability to adapt, to learn, to analyse, to forecast, to shape and design would help every adult flourish in any job which they do, whether it is new, old or just using new technology and techniques. So, let’s challenge the madness that exists in many politicans thinking which says that children need to decide what job they will do at 14 or 16 and be trained to do that job. We need to educate them for life and careers (more than one in a 50 year working life?), not train them for jobs which exist now.


  12. The flip side of this silliness is just as telling: What jobs have disappeared in the last 10 years? Which ones are up for disappearing in the next 10?

    And of those new ones (such as operator for a 3D printer) in what way (i.e., which taught skills) will 21CL instruction be better for workers in such jobs than those taught by conventional instruction?


  13. […] About 4 years ago I wrote a post about myths for teachers. This post has continued to grow over time as one of the myths was altered and manipulated and appeared in different forms. It has now reac…  […]


  14. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.


  15. I read through quite fast so apologies if I missed it but I can’t see any reference to the considerable increase in people becoming self employed? Seems kind of relevant..


  16. […] needing to prepare students for jobs that haven’t been invented yet (a meme that is rightly criticised in some quarters for its silliness – or at least for the unremarkableness of its premise). […]


  17. A Myth? Are you considering ALL the jobs they will have in their lives?

    A student graduated today will work until around 2060.
    Do you really think he won’t work in jobs that do not exist today?

    Also don’t you think that many current jobs will disappear in the next 45 years?
    Maybe they don’t totally disappear but the % of people working in them will decrease dramatically.

    Another error is abstracting too much. Of course if you do you will say that the jobs “working with a computer” or “selling something” are not new. But the true is that new IT jobs are created every year and require specific expertise so moving from one to another is not easy. Also being a Sales representative today has almost nothing to do with being it 20-30 years ago (Social Selling, Modern Marketing, etc, etc.)

    In summary I don’t think that “As teachers we have to prepare our students for jobs that don’t exist yet” is a myth. And of course this is possible: by teaching them to embrace the change, adapt fast, learn to learn, develop autonomy and personal initiative.
    That doesn’t mean that the claims you refer as false are indeed false/exaggerated.


  18. Jobs that do get created anew, though, are so-called bullshit-jobs: such (in PR, management, controlling, etc.) that do not add any value to the real economy, but only move around value (see: David Graeber, on the phenomenon of bullshit jobs). If we want to prepare children for the ‘future’ (which we cannot tell anyhow), the safest thing might be to bet on such jobs that are age-old, and won’t easily disappear: services in retail, restaurants, care and education.


  19. yeah who would have predicted such *bullshit-jobs* as graphic design or App developers?! Bollocks to that, you’ll be a waiter son.

    Another newly created *bullshit-job*….. that would be ‘educational consultant’ and there’s no shortage of them.. or their BS


  20. […] The number of jobs our kids will grow up to compete for, which don’t currently exist today. A Myth For Teachers on the other hand is cynical, and dubs this an excuse for “dumbing down” – i.e. […]


  21. […] problems yet.” Which can be attributed to former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley (2, 3). This is not a new […]


  22. While the whole discussion here is about how we prepare the next generations for work and whether the jobs exist or not, isn’t school meant to prepare students for life, not just work. Social and interactive skills as well as the ability function in society, to care, to value, to be a part of the society we aspire to. Education is a medium for us to develop citizens for a new exciting and socially-just world.
    Of course the cynic might also say since children can gain all of these skills and knowledge outside school then school becomes simply a child-minding service so that commerce can have couples being a part of the productive sector. That’s for another discussion.


  23. […] around about how many jobs could be obsolete or not yet thought of in ten years time. The Truth is we just don’t know. Maybe 1% of jobs will be obsolete in ten […]


  24. […] People will produce lists of what they expect to happen in Ed Tech in 2016 with no critical evaluation of whether or not their 2015 predictions came true. Say, do you know if the prediction in 2007’s Shift Happens that “the top 10 jobs that will be in demand in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004” is true or not? […]


  25. The idea that job-pioneering technocrats like Zuckerberg and Gates didn’t benefit from whatever Stem learning they had at school would be daft. Every PhD is, in a sense, a new job because postgrads are creating new knowledge, but they exploit an understanding of the fundamentals to do so. This article is a great deterrent to the misguided “teacher as peddlar of second hand ideas” fallacy. As the author notes, good teachers encourage critical thinking which is a skill for life.


  26. […] and project based learning hold sway. Traditionalists would counter as Andrew Smith did in his blog 1 on the subject that this is a myth and even if true in some cases, the jobs aren’t that many […]


  27. […] like this blog post by Robert Peal entitled ‘A Myth for Teachers: Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet’. The article looks at the origins of the idea that the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist […]


  28. […] blog Scenes from the Battleground, calls the ‘jobs that don’t exist’ discourse a myth in their piece on the topic, but does include […]


  29. […] knowledge. The focus should be to prepare students for life-long learning, not because of some fallacy about the majority of jobs not being invented yet but because they will require this skill to cope with the changes and challenges in life. In […]



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