2 Billion Jobs to Disappear by 2030

Thomas Frey's picture

Futurist Thomas Frey at TEDxReset Istanbul 2012 201

A picture of me speaking at yesterday’s TEDxReset in Istanbul.

Yesterday I was honored to be one of the featured speakers at the TEDxReset Conference in Istanbul, Turkey where I predicted that over 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030. Since my 18-minute talk was about the rapidly shifting nature of colleges and higher education, I didn’t have time to explain how and why so many jobs would be going away. Because of all of the questions I received afterwards, I will do that here.

If you haven’t been to a TEDx event, it is hard to confer the life-changing nature of something like this. Ali Ustundag and his team pulled off a wonderful event.

The day was filled with an energizing mix of musicians, inspiration, and big thinkers. During the breaks, audience members were eager to hear more and peppered the speakers with countless questions. They were also extremely eager to hear more about the future.

When I brought up the idea of 2 billion jobs disappearing (roughly 50% of all the jobs on the planet) it wasn’t intended as a doom and gloom outlook. Rather, it was intended as a wakeup call, letting the world know how quickly things are about to change, and letting academia know that much of the battle ahead will be taking place at their doorstep.

Here is a brief overview of five industries – where the jobs will be going away and the jobs that will likely replace at least some of them – over the coming decades.

1.) Power Industry

Until now, the utility companies existed as a safe career path where little more than storm-related outages and an occasional rate increase would cause industry officials to raise their eyebrows.

Yet the public has become increasingly vocal about their concerns over long-term health and environmental issues relating to the current structure and disseminating methods of of the power industry, causing a number of ingenious minds to look for a better way of doing things.

Recently I was introduced to two solutions that seem predestined to start the proverbial row of dominoes to start falling. There are likely many more waiting in the wings, but these two capitalize on existing variances found in nature and are unusually elegant in the way they solve the problem of generating clean power at a low cost.

Both companies have asked me to keep quiet about their technology until they are a bit farther along, but I will at least explain the overarching ramifications.

I should emphasize that both technologies are intended to work inside the current utility company structure, so the changes will happen within the industry itself.

To begin with, these technologies will shift utilities around the world from national grids to micro grids that can be scaled from a single home to entire cities. The dirty power era will finally be over and the power lines that dangle menacingly over our neighborhoods, will begin to come down. All of them.

While the industry will go through a long-term shrinking trend, the immediate shift will cause many new jobs to be created.

Jobs Going Away

  • Power generation plants will begin to close down.
  • Coal plants will begin to close down.
  • Many railroad and transportation workers will no longer be needed.
  • Even wind farms, natural gas, and bio-fuel generators will begin to close down.
  • Ethanol plants will be phased out or repurposed.
  • Utility company engineers, gone.
  • Line repairmen, gone.

New Jobs Created

  • Manufacturing power generation units the size of ac units will go into full production.
  • Installation crews will begin to work around the clock.
  • The entire national grid will need to be taken down (a 20 year project). Much of it will be recycled and the recycling process alone will employ many thousands of people.
  • Micro-grid operations will open in every community requiring a new breed of engineers, managers, and regulators.
  • Many more.

2.) Automobile Transportation – Going Driverless

Over the next 10 years we will see the first wave of autonomous vehicles hit the roads, with some of the first inroads made by vehicles that deliver packages, groceries, and fast-mail envelopes.

The first wave of driverless vehicles will be luxury vehicles that allow you to kick back, listen to music, have a cup of coffee, stop wherever you need to along the way, stay productive in transit with connections to the Internet, make phone calls, and even watch a movie or two, for substantially less than the cost of today’s limos.

Driverless technology will initially require a driver, but it will quickly creep into everyday use much as airbags did. First as an expensive option for luxury cars, but eventually it will become a safety feature stipulated by the government.

The greatest benefits of this kind of automation won’t be realized until the driver’s hands are off the wheel. With over 2 million people involved in car accidents every year in the U.S., it won’t take long for legislators to be convinced that driverless cars are a substantially safer and more effective option.

The privilege of driving is about to be redefined.

Jobs Going Away

  • Taxi and limo drivers, gone.
  • Bus drivers, gone.
  • Truck drivers, gone.
  • Gas stations, parking lots, traffic cops, traffic courts, gone.
  • Fewer doctors and nurses will be needed to treat injuries.
  • Pizza (and other food) delivery drivers, gone.
  • Mail delivery drivers, gone.
  • FedEx and UPS delivery jobs, gone.
  • As people shift from owning their own vehicles to a transportation-on-demand system, the total number of vehicles manufactured will also begin to decline.

New Jobs Created

  • Delivery dispatchers
  • Traffic monitoring systems, although automated, will require a management team.
  • Automated traffic designers, architects, and engineers
  • Driverless “ride experience” people.
  • Driverless operating system engineers.
  • Emergency crews for when things go wrong.

3.) Education

The OpenCourseware Movement took hold in 2001 when MIT started recording all their courses and making them available for free online. They currently have over 2080 courses available that have been downloaded 131 million times.

In 2004 the Khan Academy was started with a clear and concise way of teaching science and math. Today they offer over 2,400 courses that have been downloaded 116 million times.

Now, the 8,000 pound gorilla in the OpenCourseware space is Apple’s iTunes U. This platform offers over 500,000 courses from 1,000 universities that have been downloaded over 700 million times. Recently they also started moving into the K-12 space.

All of these courses are free for anyone to take. So how do colleges, that charge steep tuitions, compete with “free”?

As the OpenCourseware Movement has shown us, courses are becoming a commodity. Teachers only need to teach once, record it, and then move on to another topic or something else.

In the middle of all this we are transitioning from a teaching model to a learning model. Why do we need to wait for a teacher to take the stage in the front of the room when we can learn whatever is of interest to us at any moment?

Teaching requires experts. Learning only requires coaches.

With all of the assets in place, we are moving quickly into the new frontier of a teacherless education system.

Jobs Going Away

  • Teachers.
  • Trainers.
  • Professors.

New Jobs Created

  • Coaches.
  • Course designers.
  • Learning camps.

3D Printed Building 564

Prototype of a 40′ X 40′ 3D Printer capable of printing a small building

4.) 3D Printers

Unlike a machine shop that starts with a large piece of metal and carves away everything but the final piece, 3D printing is an object creation technology where the shape of the objects are formed through a process of building up layers of material until all of the details are in place.

The first commercial 3D printer was invented by Charles Hull in 1984, based on a technique called stereolithography.

Three-dimensional printing makes it as cheap to create single items as it is to produce thousands of items and thus undermines economies of scale. It may have as profound an impact on the world as the coming of the factory did during the Henry Ford era.

3D-printer clothing 653

3D Printed Dress

3D-printer - shoes 653

3D Printed Shoes

Jobs Going Away

  • If we can print our own clothes and they fit perfectly, clothing manufacturers and clothing retailers will quickly go away.
  • Similarly, if we can print our own shoes, shoe manufacturers and shoe retailers will cease to be relevant.
  • If we can print construction material, the lumber, rock, drywall, shingle, concrete, and various other construction industries will go away.

New Jobs Created

  • 3D printer design, engineering, and manufacturing
  • 3D printer repairmen will be in big demand
  • Product designers, stylists, and engineers for 3D printers
  • 3D printer ‘Ink’ sellers

Dog Bot 345

Boston Dynamics’ BigDog

5.) Bots

We are moving quickly past the robotic vacuum cleaner stage to far more complex machines.

The BigDog robot, shown above, is among the most impressive and potentially useful for troops in the immediate future–it’s being developed to act as an autonomous drone assistant that’ll carry gear for soldiers across rough battlefield terrain.

Nearly every physical task can conceivably be done by a robot at some point in the future.

Jobs Going Away

  • Fishing bots will replace fishermen.
  • Mining bots will replace miners.
  • Ag bots will replace farmers.
  • Inspection bots will replace human inspectors.
  • Warrior drones will replace soldiers.
  • Robots can pick up building material coming out of the 3D printer and begin building a house with it.

New Jobs Created

  • Robot designers, engineers, repairmen.
  • Robot dispatchers.
  • Robot therapists.
  • Robot trainers.
  • Robot fashion designers.

Final Thoughts

In these five industries alone there will be hundreds of millions of jobs disappearing. But many other sectors will also be affected.

Certainly there’s a downside to all this. The more technology we rely on, the more breaking points we’ll have in our lives.

Driverless drones can deliver people. These people can deliver bombs or illicit drugs as easily as pizza.

Robots that can build building can also destroy buildings.

All of this technology could make us fat, dumb, and lazy, and the problems we thought we were solving become far more complicated.

We are not well-equipped culturally and emotionally to have this much technology entering into our lives. There will be backlashes, “destroy the robots” or “damn the driverless car” campaigns with proposed legislation attempting to limit its influence.

At the same time, most of the jobs getting displaced are the low-level, low-skilled labor positions. Our challenge will be to upgrade our workforce to match the labor demand of the coming era. Although it won’t be an easy road ahead it will be one filled with amazing technology and huge potentials as the industries shift.

About the Author
Thomas Frey is the innovation editor for THE FUTURIST magazine and author of the book Communicating with the Future: How Re-engineering Intentions Will Alter the Master Code of Our Future.

This article was originally posted at Futuristspeaker.com


Hi Thomas. Very interesting

Hi Thomas. Very interesting blog! I've just linked to it from Driverless Car HQ.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about these topics.

One industry not mentioned that in my opinion will explode is the cosmetic medicine industry - it's growing now but it is probably only a tiny proportion of what it will be. This will be a result of the increased disposable incomes enjoyed due to extra robotisation of society.

In terms of 3D printers, do you really think that there will be so many repairmen? Possibly they will be able to print 3D printers themselves! Just a thought. Personally I'm nowhere near as taken by 3D printers as most but it's an interesting technology.

I hope the energy you refer to isn't Cold Fusion/LENR? Currently both companies promoting this tech look like demented fraudsters based on the research I have done. There's been so many false dawns within the field of renewable energy that I have almost stopped being excited by it.

3D Printing NOW

3D printing is a way of amplifying innovation and entrepreneurship. It reduces risk by reducing the investment needed to get a 3D printed product to market. Take a look at the community of designers at http://www.shapeways.com/ (where I work) that are selling their 3D printed designs. They have an way to sell their designs at scale without investing in materials, inventory or dealing with sales, production and distribution. It is a passive income model for designers with no waste, no excess. The jobs lost due to 3D printing will be Foxconn type jobs. Maybe that is not a bad thing.

3D printers

When I was visiting Rome recently, I thought of 3D printers. What a great way to reproduce old monuments. Today we fight to protect them, in the future, you can quickly build another monument or a sculputre with ease and with much more detail than a human can do. The only diff would be the age of the sculpture but not the intricate details. Having said that, sculptors and painters jobs will NOT go away. They will continue to bring out modern designs and imaginations. With 3D machines, they can be much more efficient and effective. They need not have to do manual sculpting any more, instead just design and the maniches will do the hard work. How about a 3D printer printing Monalisa with a real brush, producing exact replica of the original? Again the diff is the age of the paiting. - Amblee

Not Cold Fusion


The energy sources I mentioned are not cold fusion. In fact, since I got so many questions, I wrote a separate piece on the power source I described - http://www.futuristspeaker.com/2012/02/dismantling-of-our-power-industry...

Hope this helps

Thomas Frey

Clean Energy

The LUNA RING project is considered to be the most affordable and achieveable concept project within the next 20 years. If this format in conjunction with WISPS solar/uv collectors and fuel cells become common place, future energy needs will be easily met! Allen DeNormandie, Viridian Energy LLC

Sweat Jesus, is this really

Sweat Jesus, is this really the end of our life ? Do we have a choice ? I read many Dick's novels and short stories wrote in 50' 60' and early 70' - we can find there very similar ideas to yours predictions but as far as I remember there where many warning messages and scepticism in them. I love the late 60's era. i still love vinyl record, radio (when I dont have control of songs schedule - they can still suprise me), no mobile phones, newspapers - paper ones, books and cinema and analog cameras and photography - yes it was my world, it was me dream, it was my paradise: to live inside the Blow-up film). I even love this sf stories about computers, robots but never wanted this as a real life. So, this is the end, how to live in this strange and unfamilar world.


Its only unfamiliar now. When technology arrives then the human mind ALWAYS accepts it even if the same person had declared the technology impossible or even the work of the gods beforehand. Indeed the technologies you mentioned (e.g. vinyl record) will have been declared impossible before they were invented. For me, so long as technology (in general) improves BOTH life longevity and health then on balance its a good thing.

Adapting is key


Some great comments.

You're right about the naysayers, and humans finding a way to adapt. There will be many attempts to both control and/or sideline what's coming, but it will end up being a competition among nations. And whoever waits too long runs the risk of seriously falling behind.

Thomas Frey

Robot paradise

No one like machines, especially when they are gobbling our jobs. However, machines are not driving the technological evolution. It is our desire to lead a comfortable life that is driving the invention of machines and not the other way round. Having said that, no one can stop techlogical evolution. When ATM machines came along, tellers hated it. But they could not stop appreciating their convenience, eventually they started liking them. Now we can't live without them. It is we the humans responsible for machine dependency and not the machine themselves. It is our weakness for comfort that is driving this world.

Going Driverless

The number of vehicles manufactured may infact increase. This is because, as owners of vehicle we tend to keep the vehicle for longer period, however, when it comes to using automated vehicles we look for newer versions and better versions, this will keep the competition high among manufacturers, who in turn keep recycling the vehicles often, which will increase the production rate. Roboting engineers will keep the evolution of machines active all the time. They keep bringing new designs and new ideas and there will be huge demand and competition in that field. Although this shift from manual driving to automated driving looks liks huge leap, it is infact another step towards the age of automation which is always happening since the birth of humans. Driverless drones will not only deliver, they know exactly who and what they are carrying. So they will be much more safer and easy to monitor than human counterpart. So here we will be getting safer. Technology will not make us fat, it is lack of tech that is making us fat. Once we have machines which can tell us what to eat and how much, we will be much more healthier. one more step into the future, the machines will produce healthier food which is better than human cooks. "destroy the robots" will never happen. otherwise, ATM machines would not have been around for so long. In fact we begin to depend on them more than ever. They become our hands and eyes for survival. - Amblee


Regarding colleges/universities, they are right now playing dual role. Teaching and testing. Although teaching will fade away to become opencourse which can be developed by any middleman, the testing and authentication will continue to exist either as brick and mortar or online. Good teachers will be in great demand. The course designers job will be much more challanging in the future. However, the research that needed to be done by course designers to figure out the latest technology, does need some investment and will be handled not by individuals but by organizations. The institutions might grab this evolutionary opportunity to be part of it. so, the institutions of the future will invest more in R&D for open courseware and hi-tech testing/exams. This is where all institutions will eventually converge. - Amblee

"Robot fashion designers.?"

I consider myself a futurist, a techno-vangelist even. But there are a few of your predictions that I think are silly.

Don't get me wrong... 20 years ago, I would never believed that there would be an industry centered around angry birds.

I would like to argue the Robot warrior one... but the US Govt. use of drones changed my perspective on that one.

But really Robot Therapists? Explain that one?

I truly 100% agree with your

I truly 100% agree with your argument it seem childish.

I would prefer not to believe

i am now wearing superdry clothing, just a t shirt and jean. Sharing the cool summer!

more than you think...

I am amazed at how much even "futurists" underestimate the impact of technology on jobs.. we typically think of job automation as some type of "robotic" system that can replicate human actions to perform a manual task - but that does not need to be so. Imagine a "future" doctors office - where you walk in - sit down at a diagnostic station - through a Q and A - the system takes your health assessment - it takes all your vitals -- does real time diagnostic tests , etc. - you exit the diagnostic station and walk over to the Health Analytic Liaison (HAL9000) where you sit in front of a virtual "avatar" that talks to you about your health diagnosis , makes recommendations and prescribes your therapy regiment.

There go the majority of nurse practitioner jobs.. and the majority of physician / doctor jobs. Even surgeons are at risk as robotic surgery becomes more common place.

Maybe not in 10 years.. but definitely in 20 years.
IBM's Watson already proved that it can more quickly and accurately diagnose a patient than most doctors can.

The article was interesting

The article was interesting and it is happening at a slower pace and everyone will have to be retrain for a job. Some of those title are still the old title name with add responsibility, and doing the same thing the new title are about. We will need to have some type of transportation, and that what the recycling is about.