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Beyond 2000 : The Jobs of the Past, the Jobs of the Future : A Short Time Trip Into the Next Millennium.

August 20, 1995|Emily Gest | Emily Gest is the magazine's research editor

In the 1960s, it was key punch operators who were supposed to have the inside track for job longevity. Who knew? Today we think software programmers have the E-ticket, but even their skills may become as obsolete as that Disney tradition. One thing's for sure: As the global economy is increasingly influenced by the Internet, cyberspace will have a major role in shaping the future of business.

Take, for example, the "e-cash" economy envisioned by futurists, in which money exchanges will be made electronically. From that a host of global cottage industries will develop to take advantage of the expanded electronic marketplace.

In fact, top analysts say, thanks to a rapidly evolving computer technology, there's not a single job description that won't be radically different in 10 years. Sure, traditional job categories--real estate, law enforcement, firefighting--will stay around, but some very familiar figures will go the way of the uniformed gas station attendant.

"It's a volatile environment," says Paul Saffo, a director at the Institute for the Future, a Menlo Park-based think tank. "It's best to keep your bets hedged and to be educated. I'd make damn sure to develop skills in the digital arena."

Fortunately as some jobs are phased out, others will emerge. To help you hedge your bets, here's a list of jobs that will most likely be obsolete in 10 years and jobs that will most likely emerge in the next decade.

On the Way Out

1. Secretary. Despite the advent of personal computers, electronic mail and fax machines secretaries still spend more than 45% of their time filing papers, delivering messages, posting letters and making photocopies. But more sophisticated electronic office systems will make it possible for executives and managers to turn even scribbled notes into memos and have them distributed with the flick of a command key. As we move closer to becoming a paperless society, says Jeremy Rifkin, author of the "End of Work," which predicts how machines will eliminate jobs, typist secretaries will virtually disappear. Rifkin, who is president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, also projects that executive assistants will probably survive, managing the time and responsibilities of a group of people through information tools.

2. Bank Teller. By the year 2000, nearly all banking customers will use automated teller machines. The few tellers who do remain will be the "front line of sales [of bank services]," says Saffo. Even if tellers don't discuss actual investment opportunities with business customers, bank tellers will be "expected to deal with a much wider range of problems."

3. Telephone Operator. AT&T expects to replace more than half of its long-distance operators with robotized voice-recognition technology within the next several years. That technology, along with automatic call-switching networks and voice-message systems, will eliminate more jobs. Companies such as AT&T, GTE Corp., Nynex and Pacific Telesis have slashedtheir employment 20% to 40% from their peaks of a few years ago.

4. Receptionist. Wildfire Communications Inc. of Lexington Mass. now offers a highly sophisticated voice-recognition system that manages both incoming and outgoing calls. Other companies have similar systems in development. " 'We'll call you' takes on a whole new meaning," says Rifkin.

5. Middle Manager. In the 1980s alone, more than 1.5 million mid-level-management jobs were eliminated at U.S. companies, including IBM, General Motors and Chevron. Just how tenuous is the middle manager's hold on his or her job? Ask someone from Eastman Kodak Co., which went from 13 to three levels of management in one year. "It'll be the end of people managing or implementing strategy," says Rifkin. Top levels of management, he says, instead create policies that will be carried out by worker-managers.

6. Public Librarian. Computers have already replaced their beloved card catalogues and soon may replace libraries as we know them. Despite the thrill of physically browsing through books, ultimately we'll forget about the traditional library, says Lawrence Wilkinson, co-founder and managing director of Global Business Network in Emeryville, Calif. Instead, we'll simply message a librarian to send the book over the Internet.

7. Wholesale Merchant. The new information technologies allow retailers and manufacturers to work directly with each other, virtually eliminating wholesalers. In 1992, the wholesale trade industry lost 60,000 jobs. Since 1989, the wholesale sector has dropped more than a quarter of a million jobs.

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