Half of the hottest jobs of the future don’t even exist yet. We’re at a critical crossroads between the “Information Age” and the “Communication Age,” which is just getting under way. The track of this transition will determine the direction that technology will take and the jobs that will be created along the way.

So says technology forecaster Daniel Burrus, author of Technotrends: How to Use Technology to Go Beyond Your Competition (Harper Business; $12.80) and CEO of Burrus Research Associates, a research and consulting firm in Milwaukee.

If you’re still grappling with the technologies of the Information Age, you’re already behind the curve. What’s the difference between the two ages? “The Information Age is static, because it’s only about informing and using the Web as an information-gathering tool,” Burrus explained. “The Communication Age, however, is dynamic, because it embraces both informing and communicating.”

As we shift gears into the Communication Age, Burrus said we’ll fully evolve into an “e-society”: “We’ll be adding an ‘e’ to everything. Virtually every part of an enterprise will be e-enabled, which includes connectivity, content, commerce, communication, collaboration, and community,” he said. “Supply chain management, for example, will be taken to new levels.”

We’ll take a look at what two other theorists believe will be the top fields in the coming years and what promise these jobs hold for those willing to devote themselves to those disciplines.

Biotech field has growth potential
Watts Wacker, a futurist who heads FirstMatter, a think tank in Westport, CT, has a different take on the future. We’re already in what he calls the “Post-Information Age,” which is “driven by biology as its organizing premise.” Wacker sees a logical order to the changes of the past century.

“In the Industrial Age, the dominant premise was production technology,” he explained. “In the Information Age, it was bandwidth, memory, storage, and processing speed.”

In the age of biology, according to Wacker, biotechnology will create new jobs, as the genome is broken down to the level of proteins. “Biotechnology will be umpteen [times] bigger than it is today,” he said.

Accompanying these changes, knowledge transfer, data mining, and data analysis will be taken to greater heights. “We’re only a couple of years away from the meta-database which will produce a higher order of insight, making knowledge more accessible,” Wacker added. “This leads to faster and better decision making and new jobs related to creating, developing, and managing these vast storages.”

Security pros will continue to be in high demand
Winn Schwartau, a computer security expert in St. Petersburg, FL, and author of Internet and Computer Ethics for Kids: And Parents and Teachers Who Haven’t Got a Clue (Impact Press, $15.95) and Cybershock: Surviving Hackers, Phreakers, Identity Thieves, Internet Terrorists, and Weapons of Mass Disruption (Avalon New York, $24.95), projects that government and industry face dangerous security problems over the next two years.

Annual global losses from computer break-ins are already approximately $1.6 trillion, Schwartau said, adding that, “The number of computer hacking incidents is more than doubling each year.”

Schwartau said that the fact that many IT professionals don’t take security measures seriously is making matters worse. “They take minimum precautions because it interferes with getting things done, which could backfire when a devastating break-in shuts down all their systems,” he said. “What’s more, they [IT people] avoid security, because it’s hard.”

Still, the problem remains. In a good or bad economy, security professionals have little difficulty getting jobs. But the job requirements are stringent. “Besides good technical skills, the field requires techies who are consumed with minutiae and intricate details—attributes that are needed to identify the problem and track down the hacker,” Schwartau said. “You have to go beyond a myopic view to see that nothing sits in isolation.”

The ideal security person has an understanding of both hardware and software. “Computer engineers, systems engineers, and programmers will be needed,” Schwartau added.

The demand for security professionals is so great that the U.S. government created the “Cyber Corps” in May to attract young professionals to work in the cyber-security field. The program provides $8.6 million in scholarships for a Cyber Corps of 200 computer-security students. The government will pay colleges up to $25,000 a year (at some prestigious schools for up to two years), in exchange for one year of government service for every annual scholarship paid. Selected schools include Carnegie Mellon University, Iowa State University, Purdue University, the University of Idaho, the University of Tulsa, and the Naval Postgraduate School.

That’s a good deal. I’d bet that similar programs will be launched in the near future to get more students to break into the field.

How do you find security pros?

Does your IT department include staff members whose sole responsibility is security? Have you promoted from within to fill these slots or gone outside to find the right people? Share your experiences with us.