Knowledge and human capital are critical components of any contemporary developed economy. While work in the primary and secondary sectors is largely process driven and routine, work in the tertiary sector requires problem solving. Working with information. And this industry division is dominated by those who work with knowledge – accountants and lawyers, marketers and architects, as well as veterinarians and scientific researchers.
And just like other industries, this industry has undergone change in recent years and will experience more change in the years ahead. This article is an exploration what may lie ahead for this industry. What could happen in terms of careers and business. It is a futurist’s take on how things might pan out over the next 10 years or so.
This future is viewed through the lens of climate change and computerisation. This industry, as is the case in so many other sectors of the economy, is being shaped by these the two global megatrends There are other global megatrends, for example innovation springing from the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive sciences (NBIC), but their influence on the professional, scientific and technical services industry is not as significant.
About the global megatrend of climate change
A green house is used to grow plants in marginal environments. By increasing the relative humidity and temperature of the enclosure, types flowers and vegetable can grow in locations in which they are not naturally suited. The same effect is occurring in the natural world as we witness the rising atmospheric concentration of green-house gases. Altered biodiversity and ecosystem structures have been observed in most regions across the globe.
For example, losses of trees, corals, kelp and seagrass has impacted the biodiversity of marine systems. Species across all ecosystems geographic ranges have shifted and the timing of seasonal events has been altered. The diversity of life in deserts and tropical systems is shrinking. A sobering picture.
The global megatrend of climate change is having, and will continue to have, a broad and deep impact upon the natural environment. By extension, it will continue to grow in its impact upon economies around the world for the foreseeable future.
About the global megatrend of computerisation
Consistent advances in the manufacturing process has enabled computer chips to increase in power over the decades. The more transistors there are on a processor chip, the greater the capability of to process data. One of the early processors from Intel, the model “4004” introduced in 1971, was built with just over 2,000 transistors on a silicon wafer of about 12mm2. Forty years later, that is ten years ago, that number had dramatically risen - a processor chip from the same manufacturer, Intel, had a count of 432 million transistors on a 64mm2 silicon wafer. Starting from about 2020 many processor chip manufacturers have been able to produce wafers with tens of billions of transistors on an area of about 200mm2.
The number of transistors will only increase in the years ahead.
The manufacturing process to achieve these high transistor densities is lithography. The approach taken in one of the methods, photolithography, is similar to others used. Where light is projected through an optical mask to produce a pattern on a substrate.
While different lithographic methods can be used (light, electron beams, x-rays, or ion beams), the trajectory of these multimillion dollar machines is to produce circuitry of increasingly finer detail. The chips produced in the 1970s used lithographic techniques at the scale of human hair. That is the wires used to connect the circuitry, and the circuity itself, is about 10 thousandths of a metre across (a human hair is somewhere between 17 and 180 micrometres, or thousandths of a metre). Contemporary chip fabrication techniques are even smaller - down to 5nm (5 billionths of a metre). Note that this is almost at an atomic scale, as atoms are about 0.5nm in diameter.
The impact of these two influences
Firstly, to the impact of climate change megatrend upon the professional, scientific and technical services industry?
This industry division covers a broad range of skill set: scientific research, architecture and engineering, legal and accounting, advertising, market research, management consulting, veterinary, photography, translation and interpretation, and meteorological.
Because each of these sub-divisions support other industries, they will be affected as their clients and suppliers are affected.
Architecture and related engineering and technical services are involved with the construction of private and government structures. As changes in standards and the physical environment for these structures will occur, either from a mitigation or resilience perspective, these services will have to be aware of the latest practices and regulations.
Those providing engineering and technical services in other fields will likewise need to be aware of changing standards. For example, there will be heightened sensitivities regarding chemical and drug disposal, as well as waste management. Surveying and geotechnical services will be challenged as accepted boundaries of flood plains and coastal inundation will become out of date.
As there is a growing body of climate-related case law across the world, legal services will become more involved in these matters. For example, in 2021 the German government was forced to increase its CO2 emissions reduction trajectory. Another is of global businesses, ie. Shell and BMW, being sued in order to force the pace of decarbonisation.
Market research and advertising are used to both shape public opinion and consumer attitudes. Governments will use these services to either support their level of response to climate change, or to drive an increase in support for the direction they are going. While governments and major public companies may wish to talk up their level of decarbonisation commitment, times are approaching when extreme weather events will force the issue.
Climate-centred advice will be sought from management consultants. For businesses from all industry sectors, including the professional, scientific and technical services industry, will increasingly need climate change strategies and proven approaches to sustainable operations in order to develop or maintain a competitive edge.
As long-term local weather conditions will change over the coming years, the range of microbial threats to the welfare of domestic animals and livestock will similarly shift. Unfamiliar and invasive plant species, pests, insects as well as other hazards will put these animals at risk. Veterinarians will need to be aware of the changes in their locales.
And the demand for scientific research into agricultural, biological, physical and social areas will only increase in a changing world. As much as the last 10 years or so has had events that impact whole populations, ie. COVID pandemic, wars in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, extended heat waves – so it is likely to be over the next 10 years. Social science research into strengthening community and population resilience, adapting food crops to warmer conditions, and vaccines to counter super bugs and novel zoonotic viruses could be areas of concentrated, and globally orchestrated, effort
Secondly, to the impact of the global megatrend of computerisation.
Frey and Osborne, two University of Oxford researchers, made global headlines in 2013 with their much publicised “future of work” treatise. In essence, based on solid evidence, they claimed that over the medium term that computers would replace workers in up to 50% of jobs in advanced economies. While many people scoffed, their basic premise was that computers are experts in undertaking routine tasks – the more routine tasks a person did for a job, the more likely that person would be replaced by a computer.
But many of those who scoffed worked in the tertiary sector. They said that their jobs were safe. But with advances in computing, particularly with respect to artificial intelligence, we see an increasing digitisation of white collar jobs. The use of artificial intelligence is spreading throughout the legal profession, market research and advertising on social media is automated, and highly specialised software is used to create insights from extensive and exhaustive data sets across the spectrum of engineering and technical services sub-fields.
Computer-based design and 3D-printed models are advancing architectural practices. Digital technology has rendered analogue photographic methods all but redundant with new forms of image processing on the horizon.
The barriers to using accurate translation and interpreting services have also tumbled with advances in digital technology. Internet search engines are offering high quality translation services, and smartphone users are able to access cloud-based real-time interpreting services. However, the human element will always be required to adequately support human communication in this sector. For nuance, body language and emotions are a critical part of life.
Like the disappearing hurdles in translation services, the barriers to entry in providing well-informed management advice is similarly falling. Large datasets that artificial intelligence rely upon are readily available, with generated insights that go beyond a simple 2-by-2 management consultant matrix quite accessible. And like the translation services, it is difficult to use in-house data scientists to replace the people skills that management consultants bring to the table.
Lastly, the richness of the data associated with meteorological services provides an almost inexhaustible resource for how digital technology will shape its future. From improvements in medium and long term weather forecasting, better to climate change attribution of local weather events, expansion in the information available to users. Pivotal to this will be quantum computing. For as powerful as our current Von Neumann-based approach to computing can be, it can only approximate our natural environment through models and algorithms. This is in contrast to the prospective step change that quantum computing offers. Rather than an educated simulation, this technology will be capable of calculations based on a one-to-one mapping of every atom in the natural environment.
In summary, it is quite obvious that the global megatrends of climate change and computerisation will have an impact upon the professional, scientific and technical services industry for quite sometime. Climate change will primarily be felt as businesses in this industry respond to the needs of their clients. Computerisation will replace routine tasks that workers currently undertake, and the ability to draw insights from data will become valuable. Because this industry division is reliant upon knowledge and its use, the speed of responsiveness of entities within this industry to the changes wrought by these two global megatrends will be a major component in determining commercial outcomes.
What are your prospects
From the preceding, and from a career perspective, there are several observations that can be made:
If you are more the “get it done” type: you’ll be using software with greater functionality, and you’ll need to have current information to both inform your work practices and to provide timely advice
If you are more the “thinking” type: there’ll be more data and there’ll be more sophisticated software from which you’ll need to interpret and provide insights from
If you are more the “creative” type: you’ll be required to provide novel and innovative solutions to a range of problems.. You’ll be assisted in your tasks by AI-based optimisation and prediction software
If you are more the “helper” type: you’ll be needed to support both staff and clients with never ending upheavals and change
If you are more the “leader” type: you’ll need to be very comfortable with leading people in an industry that serves clients undergoing significant and continual change
If you are more the “structure” type: you’ll be faced with clients that operate with seemingly ever-changing regulations and dynamic market conditions
Overall, from a career perspective, in the years ahead you’ll need to comfortable with an industry that in many ways will continue to be buffeted by these two global megatrends. Climate change and computerisation will challenge industry sectors that are served. Computerisation will be the dominant driver of change within the industry.
From a business perspective, then, when it comes to responding to climate change it is all about mitigation (ie. shifting focus to reduce risk) and resilience (ie. fortification to handle risk). For computerisation it is all about automation and using data. So, for those operating within the professional, scientific and technical services industry, likely business prospects are along the following lines:
Mitigation: awareness of contemporary industry practices, expand service offering
Resilience: awareness of contemporary industry practices, lead in decarbonisation efforts
Automation: reduce routine tasks, seek optimum algorithms
Data analysis: expand data sources, develop a broad range of thinking skills
Overall, and quite obviously, for businesses there are both risks to be aware of and opportunities to exploit in the change that is happening.
The professional, scientific and technical services industry, like all other sectors of any economy, is being affected by the global megatrends of climate change and computerisation. Not only will these phenomena continue to change the industry, but because this industry is in many ways the supporting other industries as they change - what happens in other sectors will influence it. Competition will cause change from within. Whereas change will be imposed upon the industry by external sectors as they respond to these same forces.
For available resources and services to assist you with conversations and actions related to this article, please navigate to the "strategic foresight resources" page.