Thomas Frey is a futurist. It’s his job to predict the future by identifying emerging global trends.
What Frey does might sound a little like fortune telling but spotting new trends is an important way of ensuring your business is well positioned for the future.
Frey spoke to SmartCompany from the United States ahead of his upcoming visit to Australia for the Ci2012 conference.
Here are his seven predictions for the future:
1. Project-based working
At the moment the average person in the United States who is 30 years old has had 11 different jobs.
Frey predicts the average 30-year-old just 10 years from now will have worked on between 200-300 different projects.
“We're becoming a much more project based society,” Frey says.
“The internet and the communications systems that have evolved out of the internet have enabled us to align the needs of a business with the talent of individuals in a far more precise way than ever in the past.”
Rather than hiring a full time employee it is now much easier for businesses to bring them on for a two-hour project or a two-week project or a two-month project.
“This type of piecemeal work actually sits very well with the thinking of the younger generation,” Frey says.
Ironically, Frey says the younger generation find security in being able to do this because they don't want to end up like their parents.
Generation X and Y look at their parents who have jobs for long periods of time and then the jobs go away and they're devastated and can never quite get back on track again.
“The idea of being able to jump from job to job to job meshes very well with that thinking,” he says.
Project-based working also fits in with other trends in the business world.
Businesses have an obligation to hire the fewest people that they can get away with and governments around the world continue to add regulations for businesses, making it more difficult for them to hire additional people.
“As the overhead costs of each employee continue to go up businesses are looking to circumvent the traditional hiring process, and so this idea of bringing people on in a project basis tends to mesh very well with that,” he says.
Frey predicts project-based working will become a “critical component” in the way businesses are formulated and will work in the future.
2. Business colonies
Rather than workplaces, Frey predicts there will be business colonies.
With a lot of people doing project work they will have difficulty lining up one project after another after another so business colonies will be the solution.
Frey describes the colonies as “kind of an evolution of our current co-working spaces that we have today”.
He predicts business colonies will work how the movie industry has worked for years.
When the movie industry starts a new movie project, it will bring on writers, directors, actors and crew. All these people come together for the project and once that project is over they move on to another project. Frey says business colonies will operate like this.
“Some of these business colonies will be virtual; some of them will be physical, or a combination of both,” he says.
“But the way they will work is they'll have a project manager in place that will bring in the projects and people will go there to pick up piecemeal work, and these projects could be really short term projects for an hour or two, or they could be lengthy projects that might last for the next six months to a year.”
Frey says some of the business colonies will be structured around particular areas such as nano tech, biotech, games development and IT, or large corporations could experiment by setting up their own business colonies.
Outside of the corporate walls, large corporations will staff the colonies with one or two project managers and then they will essentially lob projects over the corporate walls into the colony.
Frey predicts people in the colony will scramble around to get the work done and send it back and wait for the next incoming project.
“So this type of structure tends to be much more free formed and for a lot of people it'll be disconcerting because you won’t have your career path that you can map out like you did in the past,” he says.
“But people that are good at this will excel in it and it doesn't mean that all jobs are going to go away, it'll just mean that there is relatively more of this and relatively fewer long-term hiring positions out there.”
3. The rise of software programming
Frey tips programming, coding and apps to be the areas of growth in the future.
“Being a good coder, being able to write code for different programming languages, all of the projections are that there's going to be a severe shortage for many number of years,” he says.
Frey says many big corporations have their day-to-day operations written in very old code even though there are around 8,000 computer programming languages out there.
“The people that have been maintaining this old code for the major corporations are starting to retire and the young people coming out of college don't understand this old code,” he says.
“So a lot of companies are going to be making the decision to rewrite everything.”
Frey says “all the young people coming out of college” want to write mobile apps for smartphones particularly after Instagram sold for a billion dollars.
The area will also be bolstered by a lot of government agencies looking to rewrite some of their processes as well as non-profits and other small businesses looking for a competitive advantage.
“The whole software area is extremely hot right now,” he says.
Frey also highlights as a growth area “big data” which is his term for amassing more and more of the huge amounts of information that we can pull out of the internet, and figuring out what to do with that and how to use it in effective ways.
“So just in the United States alone McKinsey is saying that we need another 150,000 to 200,000 big data analysts and data miners and people that can do data modelling and those types of things,” he says.
In addition to that we need over a million managers and analysts that work with the managers to figure what all this data means.
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