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  1. Spotlight on Policy
22 April 2021

21 places of the future

Where will the jobs of tomorrow be found? 

By Robert H. Brown

As leaders everywhere look to modernise their post-pandemic businesses, we’re increasingly seeing questions from entrepreneurs, investors, business leaders and policymakers about where in the world the future of work is happening.

As the world looks to get beyond the coronavirus pandemic, places that are hotbeds of innovation and new ideas, that are affordable and enjoyable to work and live in, will be places that attract the digitally advanced jobs of tomorrow. Why? Because jobs of the future happen in places of the future.

So, just where is the history of tomorrow being written today? And just as important, what are the characteristics of these unlikely places in the developed and developing world that make them a hotbed of innovation and new ideas? In our report 21 Places of the Future, we outline where we think many of these new jobs will emerge from.

Places defining the future

Given the surreal time compression of the coronavirus – weeks where decades happened, and where the future of work became the “now of work” – we developed a methodology that isolated the DNA of what characterises a place of the future, resulting in 21 places that are fuelling where we think the jobs of tomorrow lie, and perhaps, most importantly, the lessons they offer other places readying for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Some of these places are in the western hemisphere, some in the East, and some are in the southern hemisphere, but many are in the north, reflecting long-standing and inherent advantages. A few – like “Remotopia,” “Nova Hanseatica,” “Virtual Space” and “Outer Space” – are in no hemisphere at all but are best described as “omnisphere” places: genuinely places of the future.

The places we feature often anchor themselves on one key technology or concept. For example:

Cyber security. Tel Aviv in Israel has become a well-established and hugely successful location for cyber innovation and keeping data safe.

Digital twins. Wellington, New Zealand’s early investment in creating a cloud-based, IoT-infused digital replica of its physical self hastened its rebuild following a major 2016 earthquake, setting the stage for jobs of the future like “cyber city analysts” and “VR [virtual reality] journey builders”.

Fintech. In Kenya, Nairobi’s digitally engineered fintech advances have re-invented it as a highly adaptable financial services metropolis stemming from locally born technological innovations such as M-Shwari and M-Pesa.

E-sports. Dundee in Scotland has successfully fused the tech-heavy worlds of gaming and design, all epitomised by its gleaming new waterfront design museum.

Sustainability. Kochi, India’s airport, is powered entirely by solar energy. (It’s also the home of one of the world’s largest 3D printing “FabLabs”.)

Diversity and inclusion. Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the western hemisphere’s burgeoning innovation economies, attracting some of the most diverse talent in the US with a rich mix of tech savvy, culture and inclusiveness.

Digital engineering. Shenzhen, China, showcases world-class lessons in the power of rapid prototyping at its Huaqiangbei electronics market, which features digital engineering at hyperscale. It’s a rich example of making science fiction dreams become real-life science fact.

Virtual workplaces. Remotopia’s huge, cloud-based infrastructure investments reveals the poison of legacy kludges, of technical debt-riddled patchworks of systems. It showcases the power of supporting millions of telecommuting employees with modern systems that scale elastically (with Virtual Space hot on its heels).

The elevator pitch to elevate your place
So, in the end, what is it that makes a place a place of the future? The answer: a fundamental belief, widely distributed among the brokers of local power, in the promise of tomorrow, not a longing for the glories of yesteryear. Specifically, belief in:

The centricity of technology. We’re no more than 20 per cent into the Fourth Industrial Revolution; ride this wave, attracting and developing the jobs of the future, and a virtuous circle of employment growth, wage growth and tax revenue growth will propel your place forward. Miss it, though, and your city could likely end up like the California gold-mining ghost town of Bodie – a curio that tourists will visit in 50 years’ time and ask: “What on Earth happened here?”

Openness – to ideas, to people, to culture, to experimentation, to failure, to the future. A place that is open to the future has no guarantee it will thrive, but a place that is closed is guaranteed to ossify and die. Occasionally, that demise can be glorious (a la Venice); most times, though, it is more mundane and far less picturesque.

A balance between the vested interests of the “incumbent” and the “disruptor”. In too many places that we surveyed for this report it was all too apparent that the haves were pulling up their drawbridges to protect themselves from the have-nots. Price inflation for real estate, education, healthcare and entertainment is a manifestation of a culture that undervalues tomorrow. Great places now, perhaps, but not places of the future.

Education. Every person, company, institution and society that has risen through history has achieved this status through one basic step: education. Put simply, the brightest people at the greatest scale win. Most of the places in our report reflect this truth. Many of the places that didn’t make our list fell down because education wasn’t prioritised.

We also think a place of the future could be in the neighbourhood where you currently live, right where you were brought up. The future of work could be right under your feet – literally in front of your nose, as George Orwell might put it. All of us potentially have the power to make our places fit for the future. With the means of production, anyone can do any work, anywhere.

History has shown that places that get the atomic elements just right will inherit the future (and have the cool kids, like moths to a flame, wanting to be there, where the action is, and create the future of work). This is the route to making where you live great again (or great for the first time). In 21 Places of the Future, we hope we’ve offered some ideas – perhaps controversial or at least unconventional – on how to go about doing that.

Robert H. Brown is VP, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant. 

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