Wouldn’t it be great if we each had a crystal ball when deciding about our future careers and the education path we needed to get there? We would know what the hottest not-yet-imagined industries would be in 20 years (ask your parents or grandparents if “the web” meant anything to them in the 80s). We would know which jobs would be in the greatest demand. We would start our university studies with high confidence that the degrees we were pursuing would pay off.
Unfortunately, no such career or degree predicting crystal ball exists.
So how do you decide today which education and career paths will still be valuable tomorrow? How do you ensure that your university degree is, well… future-proof?
A future-proof degree is one that stands the test of time. It’s a degree that enables you to land a reasonably well-paying job after you graduate and lets you continue to work in that field for years to come, even as the industry evolves. A future-proof university degree can withstand technology disruptions, recessions, and global pandemics. A degree that stands up to the future is one that provides you with the right foundational knowledge and skill coupled with the mental agility to continue to learn and re-direct your talents over time.
So how do you forecast and find your future-proof degree? Here are four steps to help guide you:
Step 1: Recognise that no degree can prepare you for a lifelong career if you’re not willing to continue lifelong learning.
No university degree or certificate earned this year can prepare you to manage any job challenge for the next 30 – 40 years. The pace of change in our technology-driven world moves too fast; it’s a well-known fact that programming skills learned today will be largely obsolete in 3 years’ time. Unless a programmer is committed to continued learning, he or she will be left behind… quickly. According to Erik Brynjolfsson, professor of information technology at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, “The old days when a person could go to college and never have to study again are gone. So, embrace life-long learning.”
Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) is arguably the main Singapore university built around the concept of learners for life. The curriculum and learning paths offered by SUSS aren’t bound by age, qualification, experience, or background. The university offers degree programmes in many disciplines, but also provides smaller chunks of learning, certificates, and work-related modules that are stackable towards a larger credential.
Step 2: Understand demographic and economic trends that predict which careers may be most in demand in tomorrow’s workforce.
Again, we’re sorry to tell you there’s no crystal ball, but there are indicators that can safely predict which industries, careers, and degrees are likely to remain strong and in demand for decades to come. Here are some forces at play:
- The world’s aging population suggests that healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and eldercare services—the care economy—will be in high demand for decades to come.
- Machines are learning to do things that once could only be done by humans, so avoid occupations where computers and robots are increasingly replacing humans.
- Artificial intelligence and augmentation are here to stay, so consider your university time as the best way to gain experience with these technologies.
- Some believe that the gig economy will become far more important than the corporations of today as more economic activity is conducted by small, independent contractors (think Uber vs. General Electric). Choose an education path that exposes you to entrepreneurship and prepares you to thrive independently.
- Even as automation eliminates many routine tasks managed by people today, expertise in developing and creating automation disruptions will be highly valued. Earning an advanced technical degree or a set of certifications requiring logic, analytics, and critical thinking will keep you relevant and in demand, while graduates in the fields of engineering, computer science, economics, and applied mathematics continue to be in demand.
- Recognise that some fields such as the arts face little risk from automation. Theatre, visual media, and music will always require human creativity. Being a problem-solver—in the sense of being able to see the big picture—requires imagination and ingenuity. There is value in gaining exposure to creative writing, music appreciation, and other activities to develop mental agility.
Richard and Daniel Susskind, the co-authors of The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts offer two paths:
“… Students who are embarking upon their college studies should embrace one of two possible career strategies. [They]can plan to compete with machines or to build the machines.”
Step 3: Get cross-trained through interdisciplinary learning
A single skill set or narrow expertise is unlikely to sustain long-term careers in the new economy. So regardless of the subject, you choose to major in, expect to develop some level of competence in areas that go beyond your immediate domain once you get started in your career. For example, if you are majoring in natural sciences and planning to have a research career, think about taking an economics or finance course: You may have to manage your department’s budget in a few years’ time. If you are pursuing a law degree, consider a computer science minor so you can specialise in the growing field of cybersecurity policy and litigation. Good writing skills will complement skills in economics and mathematics to communicate the results of these scientific pursuits clearly.
Step 4: Reflect on yourself… and know your purpose
No trend data forecasting a rosy job outlook for particular careers matters if the field is not something you are passionate about. The reality is that one of the best predictors of future success is a fascination with a particular area of study and an insatiable appetite to continue learning.
Some people talk about their purpose. From a career and studies perspective, consider the following definition.
Your Purpose is the intersection of:
- What the world needs (demand)
- What you do well (skill)
- And where you can monetise your talent (earning potential)
If you apply these simple principles in selecting your university degree, you will find your place in the world. If you are passionate about your field, you will be hungrier to land a job, more likely to continue studying your craft, take more initiative in your pursuit of breakthroughs and improvements, and more likely to be rewarded with raises, promotions, and added responsibilities. It all comes together.
Let’s take a look at the future
Now that we have talked about how you might approach finding your future-proof university degree, let’s shift to the current outlook we face in 2022. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook (July 1, 2022), here are 8 degrees showing strong potential for career stability and growth.
1. Computer Science
The need for computer-related majors in the professional world has consistently been on the rise. 3,200 jobs are projected to open annually until 2030! A professional with a degree in computer science and an impressive understanding of computer systems and software programming can work in various roles, including application development, data science, and network systems administration. And these are all high-paying fields!
- 2020 Median Salary: $126,830
- Job Outlook 2020-30: 22 percent increase
2. Information Technology
With increased businesses going digital, there’s a growing demand for IT professionals (over 22,000 jobs each year, to be exact). Unlike computer science, an IT degree focuses on supporting business processes through technology — but both fields lead to a bright future. Your workday could span from troubleshooting computer problems and safeguarding information to creating databases and communication networks. If you become a computer support specialist, an IT project manager, or a computer systems administrator, your career path could be just as promising as your expected salary.
- 2020 Median Salary: $103,390
- Job Outlook 2020-30: 7 percent increase
Finance majors are valued assets in any company. This career commonly involves working with businesses to improve profits and streamline operations through financial planning, investing, and budgeting. You can also set yourself apart and score better jobs by increasing your expertise through further certifications.
- 2020 Median Salary: $72,250
- Job Outlook 2020-30: 8 percent increase
There are plenty of high-paying career options to choose from when you pursue an economics degree.
An economics degree prepares you to understand how money, industries, and trade affect the way the world works — an extremely useful skill set that will be critical in decades to come. When you graduate, you’ll be ready to start a career as a financial risk analyst, an economic researcher or consultant, a data analyst, or an actuary.
- 2020 Median Salary: $108,350
- Job Outlook 2020-30: 13 percent increase
Specialisingin securing people’s data and information on the cloud continues to be a promising career until 2030. Governments or companies can hire you as a systems or security administrator, a network engineer, a cybersecurity analyst, an IT auditor, a cybersecurity engineer, or a chief information security officer.
- 2020 Median Salary: $141,200
- Job Outlook 2020-30: 33 percent increase
6. Applied Mathematics
Businesses around the world need experts in applied mathematics and are willing to pay to find them.
More than just crunching numbers, a degree in applied mathematics puts you on the path to solving real-world problems. Growing fields that make use of your talent are finance, economics, systems biology, data analytics, climatology, and much more.
- 2020 Median Salary: $93,170
- Job Outlook 2020-30: 28 percent increase
7. Human Resources
With employees being a crucial aspect in most businesses, human resources continue to be a stable career move for college students. With a changing job landscape, businesses will pay top dollar for impressive human resource workers to keep the team intact under new circumstances. As long as businesses need people, choosing an HR major will pay off!
- 2020 Median Salary: $63,490
- Job Outlook 2020-30: 10 percent increase
8. Communication and Media Studies
Communication and media studies are becoming indispensable thanks to today’s media-dominated society. If you choose to major in this area, the courses you’ll encounter will help you develop analytical, verbal, and non-verbal communication skills that will open doors to a range of career opportunities. Industries willing to pay for your talents include advertising, public relations, government, and law.
- 2020 Median Salary: $61,310
- Job Outlook 2020-30: 14 percent increase
No crystal ball can help predict your future, but if you’re committed to learning for life, you will be ready to tackle whatever changes, advancements, or disruptions the world may face. Use available trend data to project stable and growing fields and be sure to consider cross-training through interdisciplinary studies or minors that complement your degree. Most importantly, know who you are and what you are enthusiastic about. Then select an area of study, a major, or a degree programme that will keep you curious throughout life, take you where the world needs you, and fuel your passions. If you do this, you will not only be future-ready but the best you can be, in Head, Heart, and Habit.