14 min. read

November 30, 2022

Smart Cities: 5 New Jobs they are Creating

Smart Cities are coming, whether we like it or not. Should we prepare next generations for what jobs in these cities might look like?

1 adrien book

Adrien Book

If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere

The idea of a Smart City is a tautology. Cities are already smart, with their own specific memories, habits, and quirks. This has not stopped journalists and tech companies from branding ‘connected cities’ as ‘smart cities’. This simple phrase has come to cover an astonishing number of topics: urban operating systems, centralized control rooms, intelligent transport systems, smart energy grids, smart meters, sensor networks, smartphone apps, sharing economy platforms, and so on.

No doubt politicians and billionaires see this as a marvelous improvement from an existing rowdy, multi-organic intelligence that can neither be tracked nor controlled. But that's a conversation for another day.

By 2050, 2.5 billion more people will be living in cities. We’ll need technology to manage these increasingly complex organisms, lest they collapse under their own weight. And we’ll need people to take the new jobs these technologies create. Below is what the future of work will look like for many of our children. Did you ever get lost in the universe of a film like Blade Runner, or Minority Report thinking these jobs are far away from reality? Well, the next generations might have a different story to tell. 

Here’s a list of 5 new jobs smart cities are creating.

Digital Twin Expert

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Why Digital Twin experts are important

Having smart cities means equipping roads, buses, waterpipes, lights… with millions of sensors and other IoT gadgets. We’ll quickly be able to monitor and control the performance of these everyday objects remotely and in real-time. Thanks to modern analytics, the ‘digital twins’ will help support fast decision-making and improve city life through optimized operational management (fixing infrastructure before it breaks down, optimizing energy use, and finding under-used resources). All this in order to provide better health, safety, and transport solutions to city locals.

Knowing how to set this up, and how to run it, will be key to the success of smart cities.

Digital Twin Expert Job description

Firstly, the Digital Twin Expert needs to work with a team to integrate data from multiple sources (water, lights, traffic, trash collection, hospitals, etc) within the city to enable real-time analysis and decision. Secondly, they need to create scenarios to know what to automate and what not. Should we automatically send a repair team when the city bus breaks down? Sure, a no-brainer. But, if one household is consuming too much water during a drought, should their tap be automatically turned off? That’s less certain.

When parts of city life aren’t meant to be automated, the Digital Twin Expert needs to build dashboards to help decision-makers quickly understand if and when there is an issue. They can then make the right (remote/digital/physical) decisions according to clear rules, which the DTE would have helped defined.

Finally, politicians need to be managed to ensure that the question asked is not ‘Can we do this?’, but ‘Should we do this?’ This requires solid ethical standards and a good understanding of existing and future legal frameworks.

What will make the job easy

Institutional stakeholders throughout the world agree that digital twins are needed to improve cities. Most people realized during COVID-19 that proactive actions, which digital connections enable, are cheaper than reactive actions. Citizens, meanwhile, are eager to benefit from personalized services such as shortened passport control lines, simplified access to medical care, and faster toll road payments, to name a few.

What will make the job hard

Most people haven’t read 1984. But all know the gist of it, and they’re not willing to live it. The job of Digital Twin Expert will be made harder by citizens unwilling to submit to tracking solutions, yet eager to see real benefits from digital twins in their cities.

But this technology doesn’t run on quick wins. There are hundreds of technological and organizational silos within cities today, and none of them are interoperable. Real results will take 10 years, or more, to materialize. Meanwhile, costs will be high, and incidents will happen. Sadly, most digital twins projects will be shelved before they come of age.

How to become a Digital Twin Expert

Follow one of the many available online courses and start your career with a role at a big integrator such as IBM or Accenture.

Microgrid analyst

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Why Microgrid Analysts are Important

As renewable energy becomes more prominent, many cities, neighborhoods, or even buildings are likely to begin independently producing power for their own use. This energy will come from different sources (solar, wind, traditional sources…), and go towards different destinations (offices, hospitals, houses, EV chargers…). All this on top of the existing mess that is the current energy market. The increased complexity created will need to be efficiently managed.

Microgrid Analyst Job Description

First and foremost, the Microgrid Analyst needs to recommend the cheapest source of energy available to the community, at any given time. They do so based on the state of the existing infrastructure, weather forecasts, present, and future needs. They understand what can be automated and what rules regulate the energy flow locally. Using AI may sound exciting, but it's useless without a very real understanding of the market targeted by the grid. 

Beyond day-to-day analyses, the microgrid analyst works with decision-makers to make life-or-death decisions. Which energy sources should be developed for the specific areas they manage? What should they be modernized? Abandoned? Should the area managed act as an energy island, or should it be connected to a wider regional or national grid? What IoT components should we invest in? How do we best report issues to local political actors, investors, or users? 

What will make the job easy

Many historical actors in the energy industry are keen on making microgrids a reality beyond their ongoing and small-scale tests. They'll invest heavily just to prove to the world (and their investors) that microgrid use cases are relevant and profitable in the long term.

Furthermore, because microgrids improve efficiency, reliability, and reduce the environmental impact of our energy use, consumers and political actors are likely to be positively inclined towards people working in the sector. Well, unless they come from gas, oil, or coal-producing regions.

What will make the job hard

By definition, microgrids don't benefit from economies of scale. There will be a very low margin of error for analysts, making the job stressful. Additionally, many technical constraints (data silos, aging infrastructure, lack of training) exist today and will make life difficult for whoever needs to reliably analyze the grid and make quick decisions. 

Lastly, central/national/political decisions will rapidly and regularly impact what is asked of the analyst.

How to become a Microgrid Analyst

Get a degree in machine learning and acquire some experience within a major energy provider.

Smart Transport Planner

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Why Smart Transport Planners are important

With the increasing importance of smart cars, drones, Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), and 15-minute cities, Smart Transport Planners are sorely needed. If cars can park themselves outside a city without a driver, do we need so many parking spots? If drones and EVTOLs roam the skies, should school-adjacent streets be no-fly zones? Can there be lower speed limits if accidents are less likely to happen? 

A good transportation strategy can help cities address several challenges more efficiently like congestion, environmental sustainability, safety, commuting time, parking, and transportation costs. It can also drive the local economy (restaurants are nicer than drive-throughs), improve economic equity for residents, and allow prompter public safety responses. But it needs to be done carefully: the way we design cities today will impact the world for the next 50 years.

Smart Transport Planner Job Description

The Smart Transport Planner’s first job is to promote an open data ecosystem between mobility, local transport, parking, and last-mile logistics providers. These are historically public actors, but this is changing, making data-sharing more important.

They can then use that data to influence regulations and investment plans by providing accurate and measurable targets in line with political objectives. Do we want to reduce pollution? Increase the number of mobility options? Cut down commute time? Have more walkable space? Sadly, you can’t have it all. Once decisions are made in higher offices, they need to make sure the selected solutions are well implemented. Are all neighborhoods well served? Are some assets underused? Overused? Are some proving more costly than expected? 

Finally, based on all the above, decisions are made regarding the implementation of new transport methods (for which technological radars need to be built), the optimization of existing transport solutions, and the decommissioning of no longer relevant assets. 

What will make the job easy

Congestion and pollution are increasingly a big problem for cities. Moreover, the COVID-19 crisis has made municipalities realise the need for a comprehensive post-pandemic approach to bring commuters back into shared mobility and public transportation. Governments are willing to spend what is needed to find solutions. For now. 

This is made easier by the increasing number of public-private partnerships in the transportation sector. Digital tools like Citymapper have also helped citizens realize how helpful comprehensive transport solutions for cities can be. This type of proof of concepts helps gather vital data that can improve decision-making at a city-wide level.

What will make the job hard

Governmental organisations being what they are, transit agencies currently suffer from a lack of long-term strategic planning. There are a few reasons for this, all of which make the Smart Transport Planner’s job more difficult: agencies have limited planning know-how, their mindsets have not yet shifted towards technological solutions, and regular changes in political power make long-term planning difficult. 

Assessing the STP’s performance will be complex. There are too many small KPIs to track in a large city, and too few large, strategic KPIs. A good way around this will be for large cities to create common standards and references such as ISO 37120 or ITU-T.

Lastly, the role will not only mean concentrating on the city. Connections with suburbs, regions and the outside world are also of the utmost importance. Forgetting this could turn a theoretical success into a practical disaster.

How to become a Smart Transport Planner

Get a master’s degree in economic development, public administration, policy, or architecture, then join an accredited program in urban and regional planning. Make sure to acquire technical skills along the way.

Smart City Ethics Officer

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Why Smart City Ethics Officers are important

With all the talk around IoT, AI, and big data, it’s easy to forget that machines and companies are not as important as people. Ethics is key to the creation of smart cities, wherein millions of people will interact with automation and artificial intelligence. We must make sure that unintended biases don't negatively impact part of the population, and that privacy (or whatever is left of it today) remains a right for all. 

We also want to limit top-down decision-making with limited citizen consultation, and the privatisation/marketisation of public infrastructure/services.

The systems of values and moral principles guiding interactions between humans, organisations, and technology will need to be mindfully designed, maintained, and communicated. This will create trust, which is vital to the success of smart cities.

Smart City Ethics Officer job description

First and foremost, the Smart City Ethics Officer coordinates the dozens of stakeholders impacting the lives of Smart City citizens: governmental organizations, civil society, NGOs... The latter mustn't forget who they work for, and the former who elects them. Each must be reminded to focus on digital ethics to create societal value, rather than increase compliance or mitigate risks. 

Within each of these organisations, the SCEO (Smart City Ethics Officer) works to create ethical guidelines. Their primary goal is to avoid system opacity and blind automation, both of which reduce oversight and ownership. They also work on frameworks for the control and use of data. They ensure that there is no control creep, wherein technologies deployed for one purpose are extended to another. They need to do so throughout the entire Smart City value chain, from innovation and solution development to city-wide deployments.

They keep up to date with the impact of technology and turn that awareness into action when unintended negative outcomes arise. These actions include organising training in ethics and running workshops to create awareness about the importance of an ethical mindset and clear accountability in AI design and implementation.

What will make the job easy

The good news is that everyone wants to talk about ethics! Many assets already exist to make the life of the Ethics Officer easy. They come from a wide variety of sources: pan-city collectives, individualcity-based programs, smart city advisory boards, and in-house projects within government entities. Plenty of good academic papers have also been written on the topic of Smart city ethics. In fact, universities across the globe are adding digital ethics courses and launching programs to address ethical, policy, and legal challenges posed by new technologies.

Why this keen interest in ethics? Because the media has done its job and is increasingly featuring high-profile stories about the impact of data and technology on business and our society at large. This will keep stakeholders on their toes and alert as to what is being done on their turf. 

This attention has made Big Tech pay more attention to AI ethics and has sparked attempts to reverse the negative popular sentiment around AI. They have a long way to go from declaration to execution, but they will be happy to work with an Ethics officer.

What will make the job hard

Organisations see digital ethics as a moving target due to confusion around society’s expectations. Opinions differ across people, regions, and cultures on what constitutes 'good' and 'bad'. Even in organisations where ethics is recognised as an important issue, consensus between internal and external stakeholders (such as customers) remains sometimes difficult to achieve. Because of the ambiguous nature of digital ethics, organisations are struggling to operationalise it and are expending significant effort to implement what little best practices exist.

This means that digital ethics is too often reactive, narrowly interpreted as compliance, confined to the technical support of privacy protection, and/or viewed as explainable AI only. The Smart City Ethics officer needs to reverse that trend.

How to become a Smart City Ethics Officer

Take 'the ethics of emerging technologies' course at Harvard, start your career at a tech company, then take the pay hit to go work in the public sector. 

Circular economy manager

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Why Circular Economy Managers are important

We’ve talked about technology. Energy. Transports. About the ethics packaging, all these topics need to come along. But we haven’t broached yet the fact that it will all be for nothing if the cities we build it for are drowned by rising seas.

One way to avoid this is by developing smart cities that integrate a circular economy by design. We can do so by designing out waste, keeping high-quality materials in use for as long as possible, and returning materials to the environment in a way that has a positive impact.

It won’t solve all our ecological problems but would nevertheless be a good start. It will at least ensure that cities are less polluted, raising life expectancy/quality of life, and will boost the economy in unloved sectors (recycling, repairs…). 

Circular Economy Manager job description

As the picture above shows, creating a circular economy is a complex matter. The Circular Economy Manager first needs to assess and select a product, or group of products that are suitable for the circular economy. For cities, this may include buses, school supplies, voting machines… the list goes on, and its impact could ripple throughout industries (it’s always good to lead by example).

They then lobby stakeholders to design products that espouse the new economy’s philosophy. This means creating guidelines (or laws) about materials, such as the use of recycled materials. They may also include instructions about design for modularity or ease of disassembly.

Because creating a smart city is a digital endeavor, the Circular Economy Manager works to leverage technology to create product use insights, and to improve the speed, rate, and quality of second-life products. They formulate scorecards of performance which enable the aggregation of data from the various parts of city life.

What will make the job easy

It’s always easier to work with legal winds behind your back. This will be the case for this role, as the 'right to repair' (a key part of the circular economy) has been made into EU law, and is being discussed throughout the world. This should make convincing suppliers much easier. In fact, many businesses are already considering and testing new business models integrating part of the circular philosophy. Who knows, it may even lead to innovations around raw material use and manufacturing. 

In fact, the circular economy should be seen more as an opportunity than a risk: fragile supply chains can be addressed by meeting customer demand through second-life products, or by reclaiming raw materials for manufacturing new products.

Finally, given how much climate change is already impacting cities, citizens will be more likely to accept the small sacrifices that may come with a more ecological economy (less production which impacts jobs, more recycling, more repairs needed before a sale is done).

What will make the job hard

A mindset shift is needed to apply and scale circular economy principles. From valuing one-off transactions to monetising multiple reuses. From concerns about cannibalisation to mechanisms to grow in new markets. From building linear supply chains to orchestrating materials.

Engaging with partners across the ecosystem will be vital to scaling the circular economy. Many actors will not see the direct benefits of partnering with cities and may need to be forced. It should be a no-brainer, but here we are. 

How to become a Circular Economy Manager

Get a business degree, try an online course, and implement a slow and steady stream of initiatives within your organization.

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I don’t pretend to know the future. But I do know that wishful thinking can do wonders. As such, I wish that the 5 jobs above will become very real, and widespread. If only for the city I currently live in.

Smart Cities will be developed. In fact, they already exist, though their benefits have not been equally shared. As the concept continues to expand, it’s important to remember that 'smart' is good, but also that not everything needs to be smart. I can confidently say that a tree adds more value than a smart lamppost. Where technology is needed, it must be applied thoughtfully and holistically — taking into account the needs, realities, and aspirations of the city residents.

Good luck out there. 

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