Jobs of the Future



Futurework 2020 is a contest, but reading about it set me off on a few non-contest thoughts.

Futurework 2020 is sponsored by the Thornburg Center for Space Exploration, a new venture by ed tech pioneer Dr. David Thornburg. The Center’s mission is to inspire students and improve STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) through the design and implementation of an international multi-year elective or after-school program on Space Exploration. The contest part is for students in middle and high school. What they are asking students to do is write creative descriptions of new jobs that will be available in the year 2020 that are not available today.


I have seen a number of presentations live and passed around online that point out that we are trying to prepare our students (in K-8 especially) for jobs that don't even exist yet. The negative implication is that we aren't really teaching them skills they will need, because we don't know what those "21st century skills" are going to be. Yes, there are plenty of places to find lists of those new skills - some sources are listed at the bottom of this post - but we know that those are "educated guesses."


Here's an example job from the Futurework site:


Classified Ads, 9/25/2020
Employment Opportunities: Earth Exobiologist (astrobiologist)
specializing in the detection and analysis of microbial extraterrestrial life forms. Current research projects will take place with probes on Mars and several Jovian moons (e.g., Europa)
Job entails:



  • Identifying optimal landing sites on bodies in our solar system where evidence of existing or fossilized microbial life is likely to be found.

  • Designing automated extraction and analytical tools to evaluate samples and transmit results back to Earth. This equipment should allow for adjustment of the mission details after launch whenever possible.

  • Conduct analysis of samples through remote experiments. Requires familiarity with: bacteriology, virology, biology of single- and multi-celled life forms, electron microscopy (especially SEM), gene chip tools that can be modified for use on other planets, robotic excavation and sample extraction methods (for both fluids and solids), organic compound detection methods, micromanipulators, strategies for detecting evidence of the presence of carbon-based life forms without direct observation of the life forms themselves.
    Education level preferred:
    Doctorate in life sciences with minor in engineering.

  • This job requires collaboration with interdisciplinary teams including geologists, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, mathematicians, and chemists.

  • Expertise in astronomy and astrophysics, Earth and planetary sciences, microbiology and evolutionary biology, cosmochemistry is a plus, as is a working knowledge of chaos/complexity theory in modeling evolutionary changes and the growth of microbial colonies.


I think it makes a good activity for students and teachers at any level to think about what jobs may exist in 2020. It would be a good activity to have educators work backwards from those jobs to consider what skills we currently teach, or don't teach, that will be necessary in the future. I suspect that lists that might come out of those brainstorming sessions might be less specific and science and technology based than we would first guess or the example above shows. I would be pushing for broader intelligences like visual-spatial and "collaboration with interdisciplinary teams" more than specific skills.


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