Why prepare for jobs that don’t exist?

Do you remember the jobs that were around when you were in your teens and early 20s? Could you have imagined becoming a data miner? A reputation manager? An information architect? A social influencer? Almost certainly not.

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If you left full-time education in the early 90s, you may have entered the world of work having not heard of the internet. The idea that someone could make a fortune shaping public perceptions of a brand using a kind of giant chat network was unimaginable. Ten years later we could have imagined it, and five years after that, it was reshaping marketing, advertising and the media.

To this technological mix, add shifting routes into the workplace. In this fast-changing landscape, graduates may find technology and working practices have already moved on from what they learned. Apprenticeships and graduate programmes are becoming an increasingly popular way to help employers get the skills they need now — and give young people a strong foundation to build the skills they’ll need in future.

A guide to the future

It’s a fair bet that we’ll see similar, if not greater, change in the next decade. As Alec Ross notes in his 2016 book The Industries of the Future, “As much as the world has changed in the past ten years, it will change more in the next ten.” This change could come from the internet of things, applied genetics, artificial intelligence or something we haven’t heard of yet.

The era we are currently in is often called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. While the first three were mostly about technological advances themselves, the fourth is about the embedding of technological advances – from digital to genetic – in society.

All this means the jobs schools imagine they’re preparing our children for may no longer exist, because when it comes to work, the past is not a good guide to the future. Careers advice often barely acknowledges the breathtaking pace of change. Research suggests parents often tell their kids what their parents told them — things like “all great careers begin with a degree” or “apprenticeships are great – for plumbers.”

The impact of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is already starting to have an impact on the workplace. Chatbots use machine learning to help take the pressure off repetitive tasks and enquiries, whilst giving information that helps people and organisations make better decisions. Traditional admin-centred jobs will give way to roles in science and technology, making opportunities to focus on the more creative — although a new set of skills will be needed. World Economic Forum research suggests that in this more automated world, employers will demand skills like creativity, adaptability, emotional intelligence and the ability to work collaboratively.

Begin with their joys

So what can parents do? How should they talk to teenagers about the world of work? Broadly speaking, start by looking at what a child enjoys and is good at, then help them understand where they might apply their abilities and passions.

While exams are important, you might also suggest extra-curricular activities that develop the broad skills — from interpersonal to technical — the world of work is looking for. You might encourage them find work experience in areas of interest and help them to see how their qualifications, life and technical skills can be used in the workplace. Some leading organisations like EY have already shifted to strengths-based recruitment and moved away from relying so much on academic results.

You can also encourage curiosity and the idea that you never stop learning in a world that never stops changing.

Parents can also encourage children to expand the range of people they speak to for inspiration. Family (older and younger), peers and connections all bring different perspectives and will help broaden outlooks and increase flexibility.

Using the experience of change

Instead of simply passing down the advice of our parents, we need to think about our own careers and how radically work has changed for us in the last 20 years. We need to teach young people that those who are likely to succeed tomorrow are those who can adapt to change today. Here, our top five tips are:

  1. Recognise that the world of work has changed beyond recognition – the past is no longer a guide to the future.
  2. Alongside academic achievement, emphasise that soft skills and flexibility are keys to success in work.
  3. Steer children toward areas of interest, rather than specific jobs. Help them understand how their passions and interests can inform their careers.
  4. Expose children to as broad a range of influences and people as possible.
  5. Build their understanding that you never stop learning.


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Rhymer Rigby
  • Rhymer Rigby

About the author

Rhymer Rigby is a journalist and writer. He has written two books, and his work has appeared in publications ranging from the FT to GQ.