Published on Sustainable Cities

Top Ten New Urban Jobs

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With about 185,000 people a day moving into cities – some 2 billion more people by 2035 – cities are where the action is and jobs are available. Following is a top ten urban report for tomorrow’s job seekers.

Image1.   Construction Workers. Someone’s got to build all those new cities with their infrastructure, buildings, transportation systems, waste management, and power supply. And then there’s the retrofitting of existing cities. How are we going to pay for all this construction? Over the next 30 years the world will see an unprecedented increase in wealth as the land being taken over by cities grows in value. Let’s just hope we build ‘sustainable cities’ or the true costs will far outweigh the benefits.

2. Civil Engineers and City Planners.    Used to be you could graduate as a civil engineer and start building roads, buildings, railways, ports and wastewater treatment facilities. The ‘civil’ part just distinguished it from military engineering, the world’s first engineers. Now the ‘civil’ in civil engineering can just as easily refer to civility and civilization. Today, civil engineers, the builders of cities, need to help develop and nurture a social contract that is always stronger than concrete and steel. Also, an encouraging trend in many countries – more than half of the freshmen civil and environmental engineering students are female.

City planners have always been at the heart of developing our cities. Their imagination and observations shape the city, and their job is getting more challenging. Cities need to be planned within a context of increasing uncertainty: climate, economy, politics, food and water security – things are changing quickly and planners need to design more resilient cities. Better city planners are figuring out how to plan cities with a larger team. They bring in civil engineers, communicators, politicians, community representatives and the private sector within a much more integrated team.  

3. Communicators. IBM has an interesting data set: They asked a variety of cities what services they needed most. Overwhelmingly city officials answered, ‘help with public communications’.  Cities are centers of condensed communication. Nothing of scale and substance happens without good communication. Develop and nurture a robust social contract, generate sufficient revenues to operate your city, respond to an emergency, check what your citizens are willing and able to do and what they want. Good communicators are more critical than ever.

4. Urban Managers. Used to be the smartest people in the room would go work for a company like Enron or maybe some investment bank. Lately though, the best students are thinking about ‘service’ as well. Watch for MBAs and EMBAs and hybrid civil engineering and management courses from the world’s better universities. Coming soon to a city near you – the authentic ‘A team’.

5. Social Contractors. As mentioned above, you cannot provide a high quality urban life without a strong social contract. Last year, the biggest damage in Japan’s Fukushima disaster, for example, was the harm it caused to the social contract. Politicians and ‘technocrats’ the world-over are largely in charge of social contracting, but this is changing. The fractious and partisan nature of much of the world’s politics, and entrenched vested interests, are encouraging new forms of social contracting. Better cities are finding ways to bring more people and professions into the design and implementation of social contracts and the infrastructure they support.

6. Servers. I’ve been watching the service industry through cafes, Starbucks, and coffee shops since getting my first good cup of coffee - a ‘skinny flat white’ - in Cairns, Australia the summer of 1993. Since then I’ve likely visited more than 3000 cafes in some 400 cities. A common theme emerges - good service requires mutual respect – a great small scale example of a well functioning social contract. You can also see this very well in Paris where 64 of the City’s 40,000 restaurants have earned coveted Michelin stars. In Paris the waiter is as integral to the dining experience as the food and ambience. The customer and waiter both know this. Good servers are not servants, and good customers don’t treat them that way. This is likely the fastest growing urban job category. True, a recent engineering graduate will not likely be keen to (only) wait tables at the local pub, but mutual respect and service jobs are increasing fast. Watch for restaurants opening where the wait-staff have expertise in some particular theme, maybe local arts, financial advisors, or near-by hiking or skiing. When retired I’m looking forward to being a waiter in a new style ‘Hard Rock’ Café – where I can finally use my geology degree.

7. Entrepreneurs. Last week’s ‘top ten new urban businesses’ suggested a few up and coming small business prospects. There are myriad new opportunities serving the elderly, single householders, and one-off rentals like camping gear, and special transportation needs. Urban entrepreneurs will continue to drive the world’s economy (and job creation).

8. Information Communication Technology. Whether it is software developers, apps, data collection, storage and presentation, or the wiring and computing hardware, ICT will continue to burgeon. And watch for cities in Sub Saharan Africa and parts of Asia to leap frog past older technologies and habits. Innovation in this area will be especially important.

9. Infrastructure Suppliers. Check out the stock price of companies like Siemens, IBM (long term), Boeing, Tata (infrastructure division), and Alstom: they are growing quickly, and hiring new staff as well. Big chunky infrastructure like planes and trains, bridges and power plants, cement, and soon, even pre-fabricated buildings, all require workers to build the core of new cities, and help in the retrofitting of old infrastructure.

10. Farmers, Near and Far. One thing you can guarantee when you get another 2 billion people living in cities with growing disposable income - they will want to eat, and will likely eat a lot more than they are today. New forms of local, or urban, agriculture will emerge, but farmers won’t be replaced. They will be busier than ever: Ditto people who work in the spirits, luxury goods, furniture, and other household sectors.



Dan Hoornweg

Professor and Jeff Boyce Research Chair, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

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