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?
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.
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
3. Secret Agent
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
Facebook— 1,700 +
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.