From education to employment

Finding the Future: What will be the top 10 most in-demand jobs over the next five years?

The Open University releases top 10 ‘hottest jobs’ list compiled through social media listening, which involved scanning 50,000 online mentions across social media platforms including linkedin, tiktok, twitter, facebook and instagram, analysing conversations between industry influencers and experts.  

Entrepreneurs including ex-British Lions Captain turned digital guru Sam Warburton MBE, A.I. specialist Priya Lakhani, OBE and global supermodel and sustainability campaigner Eunice Olumide, MBE and founder of Pleesecakes Joe Moruzzi are urging people to consider upskilling as the UK jobs market swells in sustainability, business and cyber sectors.

Top 10 future jobs that The Open University’s panel of entrepreneurs believe will have the greatest need in plugging the skills gap are:

  1. Renewables Engineer
  2. Machine Learning Expert
  3. Cyber Security Penetration Tester
  4. Blockchain Expert
  5. AI Developer
  6. Sustainability Officer
  7. AI Analytics Engineer
  8. Data Analyst
  9. Data Protection Officer
  10. Digital Content Strategist

Business, sustainability and digital entrepreneurs have backed a new campaign from The Open University that highlights skills and jobs forecast to be of vital importance to the growth of the UK economy in the coming years.

Centring around the nationwide skills gap in management & business and computing & IT and against a backdrop of the climate crisis and sustainability, The Open University has enlisted the support of some of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs.

Each shares their view on where greatest demand lies to illuminate and inspire those looking to upskill and change career.

As part of the campaign, The Open University has released a video revealing an engaging panel discussion between the entrepreneurs who whittle down a long-list of the hottest jobs of the future.

It is hoped that the final shortlist will help unleash ambition and give direction to people across the UK in shaping their own ambitions through continued learning and generate job opportunities.

Sam Warburton OBE, MStJ, Former British Lions Captain and digital education business founder, has shared his views on the type of roles that would be most useful to his business to meet the needs to the skills gap, including digital content strategists. He said:

“We need people who can analyse data and create content to reach a much wider audience than we would have done so organically. Digital content strategist and data analysts are invaluable and help businesses reach wider audiences.”

Priya Lakhani, OBE, A.I. Specialist, Founder and CEO of CENTURY believes the key to adapting to future demand is being prepared to learn in an agile way and top up your skills over time: She added:

“AI development and machine learning encompasses cyber security and these roles will help maintain Britain as number three in the world before USA and China. UK entrepreneurs are begging you to upskill in these areas, so if you have any of those skills, go for it!”

Simon Tindall, Head of Skills and Innovation at The Open University said:

“What we’ve learned in the last year more than ever, is that with change can come opportunity. Amidst the uncertainty of the current UK workforce and barriers to upskilling, we’re keen to highlight through this campaign that there are many ways to pursue new and exciting paths that range from free short courses to degree level qualifications. While flexible working may be a new trend, we’ve been experts in flexible learning for more than 50 years.”

“At The Open University, we’re passionate about dedicating our time to help you stay ahead of the curve. The jobs of the near future start today and it’s easier to make the change than you think with flexible learning packages that can rapidly provide not just the skills you need but also instil confidence to peruse your goals. You can even study while in your current job and around other life commitments, it’s never been easier to shape the future of the UK’s economy and find your purpose in the next generation of in-demand jobs.”

Despite a hugely challenging year for many across the UK, The Open University had more course enrolments to its “OpenLearn” platform since the start of the pandemic – 3.1m enrolments – than it had in total for the 14 years previously (2.4 million).

This appetite for change has been reinforced by recent findings generated by The Open University’s insights team with Yonder Consulting, which revealed 36% of UK adults are thinking of changing jobs or career in the next 12-18 months, increasing to 57.6% for young people aged 16-30.

The Open University has also been working to widen access to its OpenLearn platform to those looking for work since the pandemic, by partnering with Job Centre Plus and The Department for Work & Pensions. The ‘Open door to success’ partnership is designed to help people find a job, advance their career or grow their business, including a free cyber security course offered through STEM.

The short course, which pioneered new learning trends that allowed students to use gamification to pursue their learning routes, has been completed by 300 people since the pandemic, with 150 of those going on to further study or gaining employment in the sector.

Top 5 future job descriptions and courses: 

  1. Sustainability Officer – responsible for providing and ongoing evaluation on company’s ecological outlook and environmental issues, but also looks after improving working conditions in businesses’ supply chain, creating better safety procedures, and reaping profits from products that address environmental and social problems
  2. AI Developer – to use machine learning to improve business functions
  3. Digital Content Strategist – vital in quantitive and qualitative analysis of content across all platforms to meet company and customer needs for brands, businesses and people
  4. Cyber Security Penetration Expert – to stop company cyber-attacks
  5. Renewables Engineer – to develop systems and supply equipment that is sustainable and maintained safely

Over the pandemic to July 2021, The Open university has had 3.7 million course enrolments on its free OpenLearn platform, that includes skills across work, study, business, computing and IT against a backdrop of climate change and sustainability topics.

1. Sustainability officer​ 

A sustainability officer is not only responsible for providing and ongoing evaluation on company’s ecological outlook and environmental issues, but also looks after improving working conditions in businesses’ supply chain, creating better safety procedures, and reaping profits from products that address environmental and social problems. The job requires a person who is dedicated to reducing the company’s carbon footprint, in and above compliance to environmental regulations set by the government. The position is multi-faceted and provides the opportunity to be involved at almost every level of production. 


  • A shift to a greener economy could create 24 million new jobs globally by 2030 if the right policies are put in place, says the International Labour Organization (ILO). 
  • The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that responding to the climate emergency will create 200m full-time jobs globally by 2050. 
  • Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet and way of life. Corporates are responsible for the majority of GHG emissions that cause global warming, and it is the sustainability officer’s job to drive through the organisational changes needed to slow down global warming 

OU course: Global Development in Practice: Designing an Intervention, Leading a Sustainable Organisation

2. AI developer​ 

AI developers develop the artificial intelligence software and applications that a particular business might use. They program systems that will change to suit the business’s needs based on the data collected and analysed. One example of this is the AI that decides what movies and TV shows to recommend to you from your favorite streaming site or recommended products based on past purchases. 

Because of this, AI developers often work with data engineers, machine learning engineers, and data scientists. They also maintain those systems to make sure that everything is running smoothly. 


  • The AI Services is forecasted to grow 17.4% year over year in 2021, outperforming the overall AI market by approximately 1%. Its five-year CAGR is expected to be 18.4% with revenues reaching $37.9 billion by 2024. (IDC
  • AI related jobs market can demand an average salary of £69,000 – which is 2.5 x higher than the average UK salary (HR Director). 
  • The amount of data that is generated both by humans and machines far outpaces human’s ability to absorb, interpret and make complex decisions based on that data 

OU course: Bsc Data Science; Q62 | BSc (Hons) Computing and IT 

3. Digital Content Strategist ​ 

The core function of the job is developing a content strategy based on a company’s or client’s business objectives and a customer’s or end user’s needs. Creative professionals in this role oversee content requirements and create content strategy deliverables across a project life cycle. This can include conducting content audits (qualitative analyses of all the content on a network of sites and social media accounts) as well as gap analyses. 

The content strategist is often in charge of creating and maintaining editorial calendars, style guides, taxonomies, metadata frameworks and content migration plans. Content strategists may also be responsible for managing other employees and freelancers, maintaining budgets, and assisting with the technical integration of content. 


  • IAB UK’s Digital Adspend report for 2020, conducted with PwC, shows that the digital advertising market grew by 5% last year to a total of £16.5 billion. 
  • As the internet becomes more social (and consequential in determining brand reputation), content strategy is a promising, relevant career path 

OU courses: Business Management: Marketing Principles & Practice, Facebook: Associate 100-101: Digital Marketing Associate, Facebook: Professional 200-101: Marketing Science Professional, Facebook: Professional 300-101: Creative Strategy Professional, Facebook: Professional 300-101: Media Planning Professional, Professional 300-101: Media Buying Professional 

4. Cyber Security Penetration Expert

Cyber Security Penetration Expert simulates cyberattacks in order to identify and report security flaws on computer systems, networks and infrastructure, including internet sites that could be exploited by criminals. 

Specialisations can include: 

  • networks and infrastructures 
  • Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems 
  • embedded computer systems 
  • web / mobile applications 
  • SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) control systems 
  • Internet of Things (IoTs). 

As well as identifying problems, they may also provide advice on how to minimise risks. 


  • The cost of cyber-crime was estimated to reach $6 trillion globally this year, meaning that we require an ever-growing number of cyber security professionals to deal with threats and defend our online security.  
  • One successful cyber attack could see you lose business, assets and consumer trust in one fell swoop so it’s no wonder cyber security is a top priority for all modern businesses 

OU courses: CYBER_B1 – OpenLearn – Open University – CYBER_B1Cyber Security Operations (Cisco)R60 | BSc (Hons) Cyber Security | Open University, F87 | MSc in Cyber Security | Open University Dig + Intro to Cyber Security; Digital & Tech Solutions Professional Degree Apprenticeship 

5. Renewables C&I engineer​ 

A Renewables control and instrumentation (C&I) engineer is responsible for designing, developing, installing, managing and maintaining equipment which is used to monitor and control engineering systems, machinery and processes. The job is to make sure that these systems and processes operate effectively, efficiently and safely. 

Renewables C&I engineers manufacture and supply equipment or work for the companies who use it, such as nuclear and renewable energy companies and environmental agencies. 


  • Wider adoption of renewable electricity can lead to 150,000 jobs by 2030 in the UK power sector, according to a new study by Theodoros Arvanitopoulos of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia and Paolo Agnolucci, Associate Professor at University College London’s Bartlett School.  

OU course:  Q65 | Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) (Hons) | Open University – which has a specialist route ‘energy and sustainability’

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