Jobs that don’t yet exist

Jobs that don’t yet exist

Click here for the tl:dr video interviews

That’s the phrase some people like to use as shorthand for ‘The Future’ in education. It often prefaces a justification for moving schooling away from more traditional “knowledge based” models to increasingly progressive ideals where soft skills, personalisation 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 and there are many traditional jobs that are not going away any time soon. However the video just poses a question at the end so how both camps have co-opted this for their own purposes and agendas is a little bemusing?

The phrase is the first part of three screens from a film 2 that came to the fore 8 years back in a very popular video on YouTube called ‘Shift Happens’ and has been updated a lot of times since 3. YouTube is only 10 years old so this was fairly early on in the scheme of things in terms of edited media. Then it looked impressive but now seems a bit dated and overblown.

(click image above to see the progression)

Now the statement above is not entirely untrue; it is just that the qualifiers are a bit dodgy (a bit like the graphics at the time…)

(source 4)


‘using technologies that haven’t been invented in order to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet’ .

There are, indeed, jobs that don’t yet exist and we will almost certainly have to prepare pupils for them at this time despite not knowing what these occupations are, will be or how they may have unforeseen consequences for society as a whole in the future. How that fits within the context of schooling in the 21st century is the issue.

I would argue that although we cannot know what is going to happen in the future it is best not to entirely discount activity beyond the school gates and one of the reasons for writing this blog is to look at the wider world of innovation and technology and how it overlaps – if at all – with the education sector and how, in some specific cases, it might be causing change to happen. Certainly, as we shall see, there are social changes in employment happening up and down the country but not just in formal education. So what is the genesis of this and should we take account of this in our teaching and learning?


Any innovation in industry, culture, education, politics, any revolution in practice, must be inextricably linked to that which has come before. Yet it is the speed at which transition happens, that is the crux, and how we can successfully accommodate that change, that matters.


Recently I went to the Fablab 5 centre in the City of London. I was there to catalogue in film how “3D printing” is beginning to be used in schools and to look at the wider emergence of the 3D fabrication and manufacturing industry of which this lab is a small part. The larger scope of interconnected use of 3D printing is relatively new but the underlying technologies have been around for decades. I touched on this in an earlier blog 6.

I interviewed a small fraction of the children there for a day workshop; the parents accompanying them; designers giving the workshops; teachers who use the technology; an intern learning about the centre intending to set up his own business; the co-founder of the Fablab and a project leader from the RSA overseeing collaboration within the centre.

Previous Blogs on this topic

I have looked at and filmed discussion about the rise of informal “maker” movements before in a my blog notably here 7 and here in 2012 8
This blog is a more in-depth look at some of the players in these newly emerging theatres of learning and is, to me, someone who films and archives social activity like this on the edge of mainstream education, quite fascinating. I am a STEM ambassador and a RSA fellow so I feel it’s important to document these trends and see how they develop over time or not – if they are simply just passing fads or something a little more permanent?

3D Printing AKA additive technologies

The use of 3D printing has shot up in the last few years yet it’s been around for over three decades so why the sudden proliferation of printshops, maker spaces and kits? In his RSA blog of 2014 ‘These new one-man makers9, Benedict Dellot quotes from Business Population Estimates 10 which highlights a remarkable amount of growth in the number of one-man makers.

(source: Benedict Dellot RSA Blog 11.)

Even more recently – November 17th – published figures showing the 3D Printing market is primed for new entrants and with it new jobs:

Before 2007, the Personal/Desktop 3D Printer market consisted almost solely of professional and industrial systems carrying a weighted average selling price in excess of $100,000+. At this time, the process – and therefore the market – was referred to as rapid prototyping or additive manufacturing. Since then, patents have expired allowing the development of compact low-cost 3D printers which are typically priced below $3,500 and have generated a new market segment. This Personal/Desktop 3D Printer segment, together with the traditional Industrial/Professional Additive Manufacturing segment, has collectively become known as the 3D Printing market. Almost 85% of the half million 3D printers shipped to date are of this newer variety that currently have a global weighted average price of $1,451.
(source 12)

The key here is that as tech and kit comes down in price so new markets grow with the right conditions. Here one of the key drivers was the expiry of 20 year patents 13 on the technology.

Kitchen table homepreneurs

There is also the rise of what are called the Kitchen Table firms, the homepreneur businesses that, until recently were fairly invisible. 14

There are now 2.9m ‘homepreneurs’ in the UK, generating £300bn for the UK economy – and 64pc are women.
Source 15

This appears to be a growing sector and has emerged during the recession since 2013. People are choosing to find markets they can sell through online and in small niche units often stemming from an interest or hobby – a kind of long tail of home manufacturing and services. I would argue that a lot of this is driven by the increasing spread of networked communications.

These, perhaps, point to a changing job landscape at scale and is looking very much like ‘the jobs that don’t exist yet’; industrial and social change made manifest much like those little spools of plastic being extruded, layered upon layer, building up before our very eyes to reveal, gradually and ineluctably, their pre-determined form. Maybe we are looking at the beginnings of significant changes in the workforce over time?

The music and media industries

But let’s look a little at some of the forces behind the process of rapid technological change in the music and media industries in recent years and their possible knock on effects on society. Part of the process of recent change in these specific areas appears to be that innovation needs to happen within a university research department, a large commercial institution or informed hobbyist framework. Next the base cost of any new products or processes emanating from this landscape need to reduce rapidly over time resisting monopolies or fixed markets that might restrict innovation. Next the simultaneous emergence of several parallel types of tech and social change seem to happen– or appear to do so because of our increasingly networked lives – they may have been forming for some considerable time but change happens faster due to faster and easier electronic and social networked communications. It seems this might be the case when there’s tech change that is rapid and ubiquitous in certain specific areas.

We are lucky to have the World Wide Web – which is still relatively free and built on top of the Internet – a previous innovation. This is nothing new; what happens is that some industries that seem to magically appear out of the mist have been evolving and are in “transition” rather than “shift” and have been for years – it is only when a few bottleneck factors get freed up then that “shift” can happen if enough people get access to and agency with the tech – but it’s usually instigated and led and subverted in some cases by a bunch of very smart people often academically trained but not always so.

Entrepreneurs, are the added risk takers who see this coming and who have the vision and means to make it happen – they can get quite rich if they use innovation to jigsaw the right pieces together at the right time and only if they are a good fit. Society is simply re-assimilating ideas and concepts and adapting them as a culture to accommodate that transition if there is a demand and if it fits in with social change, otherwise what are we building for ourselves? This is my worry: that the rapid rise of networked technologies are beginning to erode our sense of self and community through the self-same empowering networks. When the conditions are right, things happen quickly or appear to do so but in reality they don’t and they are often underpinned by the same old factors that drove the last “industrial revolution” except that this time it’s much faster.

Let’s look at the music industry in recent years with one example. Between 1858 and 1950 recorded music used to be sold via 78 rpm brittle shellac records, then the engineer and physicist Peter Carl Goldmark 15a developed the tech for long-playing microgroove 33-1/3 rpm phonograph discs in tandem with the Columbia corporation. This music distribution format lasted for a couple more generations and were distributed via record shop outlets which often also provided a social and cultural focus in local towns. Then came the advent of the cassette recorder where people could illegally record music off the radio to give to each other in mixtapes 16. This was subject to litigation by record companies but people still went and bought music in both vinyl and cassette formats. There was still a healthy industry of record pressing factories, music shop outlets and distribution networks fuelled by a fairly homogenous output driven by media and ‘the charts’ in the UK specifically. However with the invention and then the ratification of the MP3 standard and the parallel rise of the internet, things began to change. MP3s couldn’t have come into existence without the research departments of several universities and commercial companies co-operating to ratify a standard based on previous academic work and when that culminated in the German electrical engineer and mathematician Karlheinz Brandenburg 17 developing the MP3 format which in turn led to a MP3 player and encoder in 1995, a new kind of possibility for an alternative distribution system came into existence. This new MP3 encoding software was soon hacked and distributed onto the internet and subsequently firms like Napster 18, exploited it to the hilt when it emerged in 1999, on the World Wide Web. Without getting into the intricacies of Peer 2 Peer tech 19 Napster was able to distribute music between users for “free” and completely subverted and undermined the record industry which lost millions in revenue. Napster were subsequently sued and resold. Further online sites like the Pirate Bay 20 also used another recent technology “bittorrent21, in 2003, to share data (usually media files) between users. TV programmes, music, films all were now available for free to anyone with an internet connection and suitable software. There was, again, the inevitable litigation by media companies who went after the main perpetrators and lawsuits over copyright infringement, further legal battles and imprisonment still continue to this day. Bittorent was invented by Bram Cohen 22(another mathematician and computer scientist) and was a protocol never intended to transport illegal files but certainly it got subverted for that purpose over time.

Because of these models, Apple (a company, that like Google, also started from humble beginnings), amongst others, had the bright idea of using excellent form factor and design to build personal music players – iPods – to house downloadable music content. This idea wasn’t new – the Sony Walkman technology, in its way was a precursor to this in the 1980’s but the main difference was that it wasn’t networked and there wasn’t a cohesive distribution network and payment system to exploit. Apple coupled this with emerging online markets to build both hardware and an online sales platform and a whole new industry was born. You needed all of those elements – legal, illegal, traditional academic, entrepreneurial, subversive, disruptive, hacker and commercial developers – to produce a new industry and subsequently “jobs that did not exist yet” began to appear. It happened before with the film industry and before that with the typewriter and typing pools 23.

Again, the same thing happened, in turn, with Youtube. At the time I was working as an educational consultant to a media company in Soho. I was tasked with building a CD resource of classical music for teachers. I hired and co-opted several music teachers who were specialists in their field to view the company’s TV programmes on videotape and to create, on CD, lesson plans and something not light years away from what YouTube was to become except with superb educational resources that we had all built over many days conferencing. The company had several copyright lawyers who determined the different layers of rights that could be used in different programmes e.g. music, graphics, director, musicians’ union etc. After creating the resource, after a few months I noticed that the same copyrighted material began to appear on YouTube – even though,even then, it had processes to deal with infringement Youtube had, by default, virtually leapfrogged over the copyright processes. I can’t speak for the firm I worked for but copyright was sorted via litigation and payoff deals with other firms due to YouTube’s immense revenue stream from advertising and venture capital injection at the time and so new markets opened up.

New for old

Some people would like to play down the number of jobs created in these new industries but they fail to take into account the numbers involved in research institutions, firms with allied services, the black economies, middlemen suppliers, PR, revenue exchanges, sponsorship, shipping, etc etc associated with these new roles. Firms like Amazon wouldn’t have existed without the internet yet all it is is an hyperlinked, updated equivalent of the mail order catalogue firms like Sears and Roebuck established back in the 1880’s but with better logistics, warehousing and distribution. The number of jobs that are created is far greater than the tip of the iceberg. However these “non-existent” jobs spring very much from and often supplant traditional ones yet the main difference is that they sit on quicker electronic platforms and are underpinned by newer, smarter technologies; more often than not it is the inspired use of the medium of the electronic networked platform that has led to rapid change. Without it none of this could have happened or have happened as fast. And it is the speed of that change and how we adapt to it that is crucial.

If anything, many traditional jobs are being eroded because of tech. Napster and YouTube led to a shakeup of the music and media industries. This was coupled at the same time with advances in technological development of cheap music instrumentation; cameras; audio recording equipment and free platforms for dissemination of the media created by these. There was both a democratisation and a flowering of media. On the one hand more people had access to more expertise in being able to play an instrument (thanks to endless online YouTube tutorials), learn about any skilled task online and also be able to broadcast their expertise to the world for free. On the other, jobs associated with traditional media and news platforms in these areas (music and TV industries) have dropped off significantly. I produced a series of tutorial videos back in 2007 for a well known folk fiddle player 24 and within days it had thousands of hits such was the demand for the knowledge. Record, book, camera and countless other stores are disappearing from the high street to be absorbed by the big new online equivalents. So people are getting more skilled in one area but also being paid less for those skills in others. And in other areas those skillsets or even hobbies are becoming ever more specialised and lucrative; wares can be advertised, broadcast and sold, more widely. Networked communications is both killing off traditional jobs but also augmenting the rise of skilled interest groups who can have a broader reach and scope than ever before…

Wider perspectives

There is no doubt that most “developed” countries are living in a rapidly changing technological world with increased levels of surveillance 25, centralised scrutiny, control and consumerism – subtle and not-so-sophisticated forces act upon us to make daily decisions – our networked lives, mediated more and more through screens, are subtly rerouted and directed by these systems at times. Smart media and back end data is able to track and determine how and what we do, think, eat, wear and buy in ever-increasing joined-up ways.


On the other hand schools are very much still hermetically sealed against the forces of the networked economies but, slowly, by the same token they are steadily enforcing their own micro-digital enclosures via the use of networked data sold by big corporate firms notably SIMS. A lot of teachers often don’t take into account or feel relevant the forces from the wider world impinging on schools. Schools, in some ways are a medieval fortress – the outside is kept at bay for as long as possible – nothing from the ‘real world’ must intrude on the inner sanctum. You have to build a tunnel or construct a particularly artful trebuchet to get to SLT – only when certain tech gets to the point of not being able to be ignored is it paid any credence and is often only then regarded with suspicion, denial and, in some cases, moral panic. Some teachers openly brag about being hostile to tech (often ironically on social media! Much like the luddites cry “Enoch hath made them, Enoch shall break them26) or conversely SLT drinking with wide-eyed zealotry the big firm techno cool-aid and trampling the opinions of others; often implementing it in such badly managed ways at scale 27 that it alienates whole communities even further. Even worse, some tech is gradually co-opted in the use of surveillance and we might be approaching a data determinism nadir 28 where the advantages of something are starting to be outweighed by its drawbacks. Within the schools sector data might now be being used as a means to shore up further defences and build in a micro-managed assessment and accountability culture 29 to maintain conformity and workforce control. Is this a palpable possibility in the future?.

Well yes, those are possible scenarios and fears aren’t they?

But maybe that’s another myth? These emergent industries are shaped and honed by people’s wants and needs in the early days and I think the early days are still with us with such things as 3D printing (even more so with 3D immersive media!) and maker culture.

I don’t have an issue with the arguments put forward by more traditionalist teachers but I do take issue with the fact that the roles within society, more widely, aren’t perceived as changing and with that the very role of work. Norway’s approach to this is to introduce a Basic Income 30 system in very restricted geographical areas and even these seemingly radical ideas go back to ideas first mooted in the 18th century. Of course the argument against this is that it is a disincentive to work but again if there are no low skilled jobs to be able to fill and highly academic disciplines might be over subscribed and in rapid flux, what then?

Filmed interviews

So I’ll end this blog with a look at the filmed interviews I made last month at Fablab and leave you think about how networked technologies might be used in more positive ways. Certainly I have long championed TeachMeets 31 and other bottom up grass roots teacher led activities augmented by social media like researchED 32. I believe that to use networked tech in truly smart ways you have to build on real-life encounters. How you teach within this ever-increasing framework of digital enclosure and social change is the challenge. I suspect the maker culture may be a return to a freer space less restricted and micro-managed. Certainly I was impressed by the adults and children learning together in more informal environment.

I wanted to edit these interviews into a nice, neat, little ‘top and tailed’ piece about 3D printing. But the longer I took over editing it, the more I found the scope of the issues involved couldn’t be put out in so ‘pat’ a format – the underlying social forces driving the issues people were talking about were too complex and the more I thought about it, the more I decided to just leave them as is.

I found Ande Gregson’s comments about 3D patents of particular interest and his understanding of the need for different types of pedagogy for different contexts and outcomes enlightening.

Ande Gregson – Co-founder Fablab London – The Entrepreneur

Adam Paigge’s insights, too, were fascinating. The fact that he had come from a traditional academic background to enter this emergent industry and how the social aspects were so important to him.

Adam Paigge – The Intern

I am indebted to the two designers Erin and Kevin, for telling me how they came to design and sharing their workshops with parents and children and the concept of upcycling 32a.

Erin Deighton – The Designer

Kevin Koekkoek – The Designer

I’d also like to thank the parents and children of Burnt Oak school for agreeing to be interviewed on film.

The Parents



The Pupils



The RSA project co-ordinator Lucy Chamberlin’s explanation of the much wider scope of the RSA’s involvement in the scheme and the concept of Cradle to Cradle 33 and the RSA’s The Great Recovery Project 34also opened out my views on centres like these.

And lastly my good friend and colleague Peter Barrett seen here explaining how the 3D printing process works.

So with the rise of centres like these and allied changes in the curriculum that also embrace coding, robotics and computational thinking the outlook for our futures might be far more positive. Education has moved away from ICT training (using Word, Excel, and PowerPoint etc.) to computational thinking and real education with the flexibility of mind that enables pupils to tackle problems in the jobs of the future.

Dec 1st 2015

The RSA’s summit on Makerspaces – Dec 2nd 2015

This blog comes out just prior to the RSA’s summit on Makerspaces – the RSA’s report into makerspaces is here 35

Here’s a quote:

“Our survey found that 43 percent of people often feel confused by the pace of technological change and struggle to keep up. We argue that the act of making is one means of regaining mastery over technology – not just because it enables us to be more self reliant but also because it can boost our sense of agency. Through novel acts of making we come to understand the workings of complex tools and the make-up of objects.”

Source : (Ours to Master How makerspaces can help us master technology for a more human end. Benedict Dellot November 2015)

You can view a further précis of ideas behind the conclusions here:


The RSA Makers’ Summit will be streamed on youtube on December 2nd starting here:


You can see more information here 38

You can download the report on Makerspaces via here:

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