How can we talk to young people about the future jobs when it’s never been more difficult to give advice or certainty around the availability of opportunities?
The learning and work environment Australia’s young people are entering now is as opaque as it’s ever been. In fact, this was one of the Business Council of Australia’s arguments in a recent review of the VET sector where it said more robust career advice for young people was clearly needed.
“The first problem is the approach potential learners take to making decisions about their future, and the lack of information available to help them make good decisions,” the BCA wrote. “This starts in schools with career counselling and the information we give young people, but is even more prevalent for adults in the labour force or looking for work who struggle to find relevant and helpful information.”
With the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, many of today’s young people find themselves finishing courses or training with more limited job opportunities available. The statistics showed that those in work (often to support study) were among the hardest hit early in the crisis. ABS data for May showed payroll jobs worked by those aged under 20 suffered the largest falls (-14.6 per cent).
Young people’s dreams are being placed on some shaky foundations – at least in the very short-term. They rightly want to know where the jobs are likely to be found today as well as tomorrow.
But can we answer? Mega-trends like automation and globalisation are already sweeping through the world of work. They are leading to change that is significant, fast-paced and unpredictable.
With a range of predictions about what impact these forces might have in the coming years, young people can be forgiven for experiencing a lot of doubt, anxiety and insecurity about the future.
Is there a way we can talk to young people about the jobs of the future?
The beginning is not the end
Listen to Year13 founder Saxon Phipps’ full interview with ReadyTech CEO Marc Washbourne about the jobs of the future at the recent 2020 Careers Expo.
Year13 is one organisation that tries to make sense of the options available to young people. At its recent 2020 Digital Careers Expo, ReadyTech CEO Marc Washbourne shared his own career story, from his entrepreneurial beginnings mowing lawns at age 15 to heading an ASX-listed tech company.
His advice? “The beginning is not the end.”
While it’s a very challenging time to be thinking about a future career or entering the workforce, Marc told Year13’s audience that with a patient, long-term approach to learning and work, young people could be confident of finding genuinely fulfilling careers in the years to come. “COVID-19 has thrown a spanner in the works… but we will recover and there is a lot to be optimistic about.”
Amid the uncertainty, Marc said there are some certainties young people can use to guide them.
Expect the unpredictable
A lot of careers progress in highly unpredictable ways. While our culture often promotes the idea of linear journeys of learning and work progress via a single career choice, in many cases, those who have found fulfilling work have had ‘messy’ and meandering paths that involved falling into unexpected areas of work. Sometimes involving failure, ultimately they can end up exploring interests and talents and using those experiences to hone in on things they are good at and enjoy.
“I studied History at university,” Marc said. “You might ask how did a guy who studied history end up running a technology company? It seems quite random, but that is quite common in many people’s career paths. In the first few years, young people are layering experiences; you can start to understand what you’re good at and what you enjoy, what your strengths are, what you have a passion for, and once you have that it will be recognised in others.”
Fine tune the 4 C’s
The first few years of any working life should be about trying things out rather than landing that high-paying job right away, Marc argues. Part of that will be learning and flexing the ‘four C’s’, or those more human skills that are likely to continue to be highly translatable and transferable across industries and different workplaces in the future. Carrying the four C’s – creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication – will allow young people to bring valuable employability skills with them in addition to technical knowledge that will support them in the future of work.
“We are seeing the continual rise of more computerisation and that is taking some of the tasks and the jobs that we were doing previously. As a result, we are seeing employers increasingly looking for human skills that computers can’t perform and they will be among the most sought after skills in the future. With technology changing things so fast, we need those creative people, those critical thinkers, to help manage that change – and the technology is not going to go away,” Marc said.
Bring a (positive) attitude
As an extension to human skills, the right attitude can help young people improve their employment prospects in the short and long-term in a competitive world. Though there may be less opportunities available, the willingness to put themselves forward with a positive approach and seek out new work experiences – even through volunteering – are signs that they have what it takes to make it in paid employment. While no one is entitled to a job, the right attitude can go a long way to ensuring young people make the most of opportunities.
“We take a range of people in at ReadyTech – in our customer service team on our support desks for example, they could have a range of qualifications, including in VET. We value people who have done some work experience placements, internships or volunteering – I think that shows really great promise in that young person. We look for a positive attitude, a can-do attitude. People who are willing to take the initiative, go the extra mile. There is some competition out there and you have to stand out, so being positive and having a good attitude is the trait I would value the most.”
Identify your strengths and passions
The word “passion” can get overused at times, but it is a crucial element in individuals finding work that sustains them both financially and with meaning and purpose over time. By experimenting with work opportunities that both pay the bills and integrate some elements of their strengths or their interests, or even cultivating a passion, young people are more likely to experience a state of flow, be curious about their work and love what they do, which will help them excel in their careers.
“I tell my kids who are 13 and 10 to be curious and ask questions – I think that’s really important. I think that the ability to engage in lifelong learning is a fundamental trait, and I encourage them it’s important to continue to learn. I would also push them to follow passions that play to their strengths and their purpose – when you work to your strengths you get into a state of flow and it doesn’t feel like you’re working, time flies. As they say, if you love your job you’ll never work another day in your life.”
The future is out there
There will be a lot of opportunities for today’s young people in the workforce. Even if COVID-19 has changed the landscape in ways that may make it more difficult to get a start or move forward in the short-term, the Australian economy will continue to yield new opportunities in the years to come. However, worrying probably won’t solve anything, and Marc suggests that just by getting out there, asking for opportunities, you might be surprised what will come back.
“Don’t worry. The things I was worried about at 18 or when I left university at 21 seemed incredibly important at the time, but looking back, they are a lot less important. Don’t worry what peers and others think about your chosen career path – you have to choose the career because it is for you. Follow your gut instincts and you will find your place in the world, and when it gets hard, keep going – challenging times are good times to flex your muscles and become better,” Marc said.
Listen to the full interview with ReadyTech’s Marc Washbourne on Jobs of the Future now – click here.