We’ve all heard the warnings that robots are coming for our jobs, and that this threat is only going to grow exponentially in the future, and dramatically change the work environment. Indeed, a statistic quoted by the World Economic Forum estimates 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will grow up to be employed in jobs that don’t yet exist. So, with no specific indication yet what these jobs might end up being, how do you prepare yourself and your children for the future of work?
Become a futurist
If you’re trying to work out where your child might end up being employed when they graduate from school or university, I first recommend trying to be a bit of a futurist or even science fiction writer yourself. (Okay, I might be a bit biased, but it can be very rewarding). Try to really think about what the world might look like in 30, 40 or even just 20 years’ time.
In my role as a futurist, I work with businesses and educational facilities to come up with multiple likely scenarios for the future. Together, we analyse which are most likely, and then how to prepare for these eventualities. You can work with your child in the same way, predicting future possibilities and how your child might be able to take advantage of this. Also think about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and how these might be optimised or developed for future roles.
3 questions to get you started
The old advice from parents (and certainly the advice I received from my parents) to focus on the ‘safe’ careers of law, medicine or finance may no longer be appropriate. As I discussed in a previous blog, all these professional services are now under threat from digitisation, machine learning, automation and roboticisation. This is not to say we’ll no longer need human doctors and lawyers – a need will always exist for their very human ethics and compassion. (And, yes, lawyers are capable of compassion too). But they will find their scope and focus greatly changed over the coming years.
Rather than try to predict what specific careers might emerge to take the place of professional services providers, first think about the jobs that might become obsolete, at least for your child. To get started as a futurist, ask the following three questions:
- Can a computer or artificial intelligence do the job faster?
- Can someone overseas do it cheaper?
- Are the skills of the job going to be unnecessary in the future?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to one (or especially all three) of these questions, chances are your child won’t be able to find employment in that career.
Focus on soft skills
In recent years, many employers – and graduates – have become increasingly underwhelmed with the job skills universities are providing. Smart companies are also realising they can teach the ‘hard’, job-specific skills required for their industry or business in-house. What they're missing are those right-brained ‘soft’ skills that are harder to teach in the work environment – skills like creativity, problem-solving, influencing and innovation. These are the skills smart companies are hiring for, and pushing universities to develop.
Many universities, including the ones I work with such as The University of Sydney and La Trobe University (both in Australia) are now catering for this burst in demand by changing not just what they train but how they train. Universities are now developing ways to offer shorter courses where they combine the best of left-brain ‘hard’ skills with these soft skills of creativity and collaboration.
As I’ve mentioned previously, the future focus should be on courses that combine STEM subjects with humanity and empathy – or, as Thomas Friedman calls it, STEMpathy. These are the skills that artificial intelligence will find hard to replicate or outperform us on, and they’re the skills you should also focus on with your child.
Encourage play and collaboration
In many ways, Finland leads the world in its approach to education. (Much as it pains me to admit this, as someone from Sweden, who’s always maintained my country’s friendly rivalry with Finland.) Schools there teach very futuristic and humanistic subjects such as collaboration, and encourage play-based learning.
In the future, collaboration – both with other humans and with computers – will become increasingly important. And in a world where work may look very much like a video game, an ability to play with the environment and react creatively to it will also have a premium placed upon it. These are the areas you can encourage in your child as well. (Although, chances are, they’ll need no encouragement in the gaming area.)
I recently chatted with Adam Straney on Talking Lifestyle Radio about these ideas, and you can listen to the full interview here or above in the player.
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