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Imaginings

When I grow up I want to be an astronaut

Dad, what do you think I should do for work when I grow up? What should I study at school?

My kids are both young teenagers and have just started to think about what they want to do with their lives, what they should study and what work they may want to do when they ‘grow up’. This has led me to reflect on how much has changed since I was their age when I aspired to be a humble astronaut!

Whilst my generation (Gen X) faced some labour market uncertainty, we did not face the same turmoil and disruption that teenagers today will. It seemed realistic in the 90’s that if you trained in a profession or trade you were likely to be able to carve out a career for life and have relative job security, I am not sure this is the case today.

So what should you advise your kids on their school, university and career choices? What jobs or careers do you encourage or suggest they pursue and follow?

Challenging Times

A recent trip to San Francisco helped me understand two major issues we are facing. The first, unsurprisingly, is that technology, digitisation, robotics and AI will dramatically impact our lives and change the very nature of our economies, business and labour markets in general. The second is to make sure our collective workforce has been trained with the appropriate skills and capabilities to be productive in our future economy and business world.

Unlike my generation that went to school / university and front loaded study and skills development before commencing our career, the current generation will have to adopt a much more continuous approach to learning throughout their various careers. Where it was possible for Baby Boomers and Gen X to stay current (or nearly current) throughout their working lives, the workforce comprising Gen Y and beyond is likely to have to be much more adaptable to career change, learning new skills constantly throughout their numerous ‘careers’.

It’s interesting to think about jobs and careers that one day were deemed to be ‘safe’ and highly prestigious are now subject to significant disruption from technology and AI. For instance, I am not sure I will overly encourage my kids to study Law, Accounting, General (medical) Practice, Journalism, Pharmacy, Equity Research / Trading – all of these industry segments are prime candidates for major technological disruption and automation and are likely to reduce their respective demand for highly skilled humans in the future.

Refer to a couple of recent articles on this topic:

Taking Responsibility

I am becoming increasingly concerned that our education sector, government and industry more broadly is not acting quickly enough on this issue. Without adequate work available, there is increased risk of social discord and tension within countries and between countries. Unlike many other ‘crises’ this will occur in our backyard and the backyards of most developed countries.

We need to start talking about this issue more in the public domain and have a strong policy response from government, business and education sectors. It’s encouraging to see companies like Coursera and Skillshare appearing who are seeking to disrupt the tertiary education sector by offering high quality online (short) courses for people to upskill themselves without significant cost impost.

Whilst you may still study a specialisation at school and university, in the future it is likely that this specialisation will be short lived and you will need to continue to learn new skills as the economy transforms and evolves. Accessing programs similar to those offered by Coursera and Skillshare will need to become the norm in the future.

This will require people to take more control and have greater oversight over their careers and personal development, rather than expect their ’employers’ to do so. Average employment tenure is shrinking and the gig economy is on the rise, both of these events may result in less professional development being offered by an employer and more being expected from individuals in the workforce itself.

People are going to need to spend more time understanding their current skill set relative to the market and identifying where they are deficient. They will need to be much more proactive in re-skilling, re-training than ever before – workers should not expect to rely on L&D functions of their ‘employer’ to do this work for them.

Advice to my kids

So when the time is right to advise my kids on learning / career choices in the coming years I think I will focus on some of the following points:

  • Expect the unexpected, expect change, expect disruption, don’t assume things will be stable and stay the same over time
  • Gain a grounding in something relevant for today’s world but be prepared to change course and direction as events evolve over time. (Caveat: try and do something you are interested and passionate in as well!)
  • Learn how to learn and keep learning throughout your working life. Your school and university experience should be about learning to learn, to some degree the subject matter learned is a secondary factor. Develop the skills, aptitude and desire for learning as a discipline in its own right
  • Invest time in understanding you – what makes you tick, what do you enjoy, what don’t you enjoy, what are you good at, what aren’t you good at, what environment gets the best out of you, what excites and motivates you?
  • Keep a close eye on new technologies and market disruption that require new skills or are replacing people – how will this affect what you are doing today? How will it affect your role, company and industry?
  • Humans mostly like dealing with humans – work that involves people, relationships and human contact is likely to be ‘safer’ than work that involves research, data and process (Caveat: a lot of what is done face to face today will also be subject to considerable disruption in the future e.g. Point of Sale Retail or GP’s)
  • Make sure you have a skills / career coach who can work with you over time and help you navigate your career decisions – these people will be really critical in the future and I do not think sufficient support will come from companies due to the changing nature of the workforce

…….the alternative is to be one of the people developing the AI, Algorithms or programs that are going to change the world in which we work / live in.