What will municipal jobs of the future look like in smart cities?

Wed, 2014-08-27 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

A decade or so ago, how many cities envisioned the day they would be hiring chief innovation officers or chief data officers?

Well, we've told you how a growing number of cities are taking a page from private industry and hiring chief innovation officers to foster new thinking and fresh ideas at city hall. And we're hearing more about city chief data officers too. In fact, Los Angeles just hired 25-year-old Abhi Nemani, previously with Google and Code for America, as its first chief data officer. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has a chief innovation officer, a chief data officer and just hired a civic technology director.

So what's next?

Many traditional public sector jobs will give way to specialized and highly technical jobs in the future, suggests Colin Wood writing for GovTech.com. He highlights four of them in his recent article, which is well worth reading:

    • Drone fleet engineer  
    • Autonomous vehicle manager
    • Collective intelligence engineer
    • Machine learning engineer

The pool of jobs that robots can do, Wood notes, is growing as they learn to do more sophisticated tasks. He quotes Martin Ford, entrepreneur and author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future. “Any job you can think of now where someone sits in front of a computer or a telephone and does the same kinds of things over and over again, that’s very likely to be automated 20 years from now,” Ford said.

In fact, a recent headline in Forbes asks: In the Future, Will Only Robots Celebrate Labor Day?

We’ve written about cities using robots, for example New York City's SuperDroid LTF, a fire department "worker" that takes photos in collapsed buildings to assist with searches and meter readings during hazmat operations.

But Forbes writer Mark P. Mills asserts that the robot emerging today as a job threat is not so much the sci-fi android, but instead the algorithm.

"Algorithms," Mills writes, "whether in the form of software, apps, analytics or what some people call Big Data -- have entered an entirely new phase in scale and capability. Lawyers, for one, have noticed the invasion; some fear that algorithms will decimate the traditional structure and size of the legal profession.  Software automates effectively and cheaply, much of the rote knowledge work -- and even some of the analytical work -- that has been central to legal practice for eons. This is where 'robots' are heading: into every profession. These new robots are virtual, hidden inside computers, not mechanical machines walking around with computers inside them."

Other growth areas

While not city-specific, an infographic at AOL Jobs projects the top 10 jobs of the future and a number of them are relevant to cities and other public sector agencies. For example, as society realizes the importance of addressing mental health problems, the demand for counselors and therapists will increase. Similarly, as governments wrestle with natural resource and sustainability challenges, the need for environmental scientists and specialists will grow.

How do you think city hall jobs will change in the next 10 to 20 years?  Use the Comment form below (you must be logged in) to share your thoughts.