There’s been lots of talk lately about the future of work. It all sounds very exciting, but what does it mean for high school students? After all, they are the workforce of tomorrow.
Technological advances, automation, entrepreneurship and increasing globalisation all sound very impressive.
But the key questions we need to be asking right now are:
how much will our jobs of the future actually differ from the jobs of today, and
what should we do to prepare?
The workforce has already started to adapt
The NSW Department of Education have published a report recently talking about the future of work, and these are the key points they came up with (I’ve summarised):
- More jobs are currently being transformed than destroyed
- Routine tasks are being performed by machines
- We’ve had less change in job distribution in Australia than there has been overseas
- Uniquely human skills will be of the greatest value in the future labour market
What this means is that because Australia has benefitted in the past from a good education system we haven’t seen widespread job destruction – people have adapted and found non-automated roles that allow them to use their ‘human’ skills to best advantage.
So, we need to build ‘human skills’, such as communication and teamwork, to prepare for the future of work.
How much will the jobs of the future differ from the jobs of today?
Up until recently, humans performed a huge range of jobs, from complex tasks such as designing space shuttles right through to menial, repetitive work, like sewing clothes in a factory.
Many developed nations have already seen most of the repetitive ‘unskilled’ jobs move offshore – just think of where most of your clothes and TVs are made – so the current workforce has already had to adapt to losing this source of work.
I could go on about why this happened, and what this means, but you already know that the younger generations won’t have things as easy as our parents and grandparents (read 7 things baby boomers have ruined for millennials).
Basically, as a millennial you can no longer expect to get an easy entry-level role in a repetitive (boring) job that also pays the bills, like our grandparents could.
In today’s workforce, you’re going to need to use your uniquely human skills to perform the work that can’t be done by machines.
Same job, different work
Many of the same jobs still exist, and will continue to do so for decades to come, but the work you perform for that job will look very different.
Take a lawyer for example.
The legal profession started way back in ancient Greece, but back then they couldn’t even take a fee for their work. In the middle ages, most law experts were also priests (find out more about the history here.)
For the last hundred years or so, lawyers have generally enjoyed wealth, status and privilege, but much of their time was spent researching legal precedents or performing mainly administrative tasks. This work required a high skill level, which was justification for the high fees they charged.
But recent technological advances have hit the legal profession, and software now exists that can do many of the complex search tasks that lawyers used to perform. Young lawyers can expect to spend much less of their career pouring over paperwork, and more time negotiating and communicating with clients and colleagues.
It’s still the same job, but the work you will do it in will be different.
Want more examples?
These are from the FYA New Work Smarts Report (I’ve summarised again.)
New technology will likely cut the time spent on things like stocktaking and ordering, allowing assistants to spend substantially more time on digital tasks, such as updating the business website, developing an online shopping app and analysing monthly sales data.
The local computer store worker in 2030 will trade time spent inspecting equipment and scheduling work for time spent interacting with customers or colleagues and analysing product data.
The growing use of automation and digital learning tools will notably change how teachers do their jobs, giving teachers more time to interact with students. By 2030, teachers will routinely use digital technology to make classroom education a more interactive, student-centred experience. They will likely spend less time grading and more time facilitating self-directed learning.
We need to change our ideas about which skills are important
Sounds easy, right? But what the data is telling us is that ‘book smarts’ (or IQ) is now just as important as problem solving, teamwork, and communication.
And because our current education system is geared to measure ‘book smarts’ above anything else, we’re going to find it difficult to put more complex skills such as teamwork on a sliding scale. Anyone can deliver a maths test, but how do you measure problem solving?
Which skills are important now?
- Working in a team environment
- Problem-solving skills
- Determination, and
- Knowledge (maths and English etc.)
Employers (and increasingly also education providers) are already looking for the ‘new’ important skills
This is a good thing.
There are more ways to excel, and more opportunities to prepare. A great example of this is the difference between the old and new way of getting into uni.
Universities in Australia used to just look at these things:
Now, universities look for a combination of some or all of these things:
- Consistent good results at school
- Results in individual subjects
- Community service
- Your school’s rating of your learning ability and aptitude
- Portfolios, audition, and interviews
Employers look for ‘soft’ skills (as well as your marks) because sometimes things like your determination or adaptability have more of an impact on the likelihood of your success than your Year 12 marks.
Let’s go to the source – some of Australia’s top businesspeople have spoken to Business Insider about their predictions for the future of work in this article.
Their predictions are startling – work will be flexible and fluid, young people will need lots of skills to tackle many different roles over their careers, and practical, real-world skills will become more prized than academic learning.
Ok, so how do we prepare for this?
The best idea is to make sure you round out all your skills, and don’t just focus on your ATAR. Sure, your marks are important, but they’re not the only thing that counts.
Here’s some things you can do right now to get ready for the future of work:
Commit to your learning
If you see school as a ‘waste of time’, then you’re probably just wasting your own time. Flip your viewpoint and take advantage of everything your school has to offer. Listen in class, learn how to take constructive criticism, choose subjects you enjoy and work to retain the knowledge.
The FYA Report predicts that workers will spend more time learning in future, not less, so learning is going to be an ongoing part of your life whether you like it or not.
Do more of the stuff you love
Take part in sport or exercise, learn new skills in short classes or holiday workshops, volunteer in your community, strive for leadership awards, and build a portfolio.
It’s all relevant and worth your time.
Think outside the box
Problem solving skills are going to be invaluable. If you’ve got an idea then see if you can turn it into reality, and waiting to finish school to start carving your own path is just one big wasted opportunity.
Don’t blend into the background
In the military they use the term ‘grey man’ to describe people who blend in and avoid anything that might make them stand out. It can be easy at school to stick in the middle of the pack, but once again you’re wasting an opportunity. The selection process for many jobs is changing, and you can expect to take part in group interviews in the future. If you blend into the background there then you probably won’t get the job.
Learn how to communicate
Take every opportunity to hone your skills. Speak with salespeople at the shops, get on the phone when you need to call people instead of asking your folks to do it, write letters to your member of parliament on issues you care about, and speak up at school. The more practice you get now, the better you will be when it counts.
We’ve put together some great ideas that will help you build experience and develop skills that employers are looking for.
Click the link to find all the details.