Can we prepare our youth to find meaningful careers despite the onset of automation? This thought-provoking question was asked by a participant in my Cannexus presentation in January 2018. I have a personal stake in the answer, as my son Ben is in Grade 12 and is deciding which career direction to pursue and where he should go to further his education. There is a lot of information to digest and important life decisions to be made for a young man who is not yet 17.
To answer this query, there are four important questions that should be addressed:
- Are there any resources that our kids and parents can access to find timely, reliable, relevant information?
- What skills will our kids need to robot-proof themselves regardless of the career paths they choose?
- Are there certain industries and occupations that are more protected from automation than others?
- Are there any other key factors to consider that could impact future employment prospects?
Identifying relevant resources
There are some reliable resources available online. For starters, learn about the 21st Century Skills Framework for 21st Century Learning initiative at C21Canada.org, which is strongly endorsed by many major multinational corporations as well as many educational institutions around the world. These essential skills encompass three key areas:
- Life and career skills
- Learning and innovation skills
- Information, media and technology skills
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Economic Forum are two other excellent resources to tap into for the latest information and relevant global trends.
Keeping the robots at bay
It can be an ongoing challenge to identify the specific skills needed to robot-proof my son, as the target is a moving one that seems to be in a constant flux.
The World Economic Forum has identified 10 top skills for the world of work in 2020:
- Complex problem solving
- Critical thinking
- People management
- Co-ordinating with others
- Emotional intelligence
- Judgement and decision making
- Service orientation
- Cognitive flexibility
21st Century Learning Skills identifies 20 distinct skills within the framework of what they call “the 7Cs” (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, cross-cultural understanding, computing, and career and learning self-reliance).
The OECD holds an annual Skills Summit to review and revise its list of the top-needed skills. It also offers a Skills Strategy framework and produces a Skills Outlook report.
My wife and I have steered our son toward participating in activities that will help him develop many of these skills. He is involved in volunteering (service orientation), competing in team sports and activities (collaboration), participating in his high school jazz band (creativity) and completing his lifeguard certification training (critical thinking).
I have shown him how to prepare an impressive resume, cover letter and coached him on his interview skills. I have also advised him to google what these skills really mean and, more importantly, to research ideas that he can use to help improve on them.
The results from this preparation and skills development are already apparent – he has secured and kept a part-time job as well as a full-time summer job. Both opportunities have exposed him to working with and having to tactfully communicate with the public.
Searching for certainty in an uncertain world
The consensus is that there is still significant uncertainty around the impact and timing of AI and automation on the world of work. The OECD estimates that approximately 9% of jobs in OECD countries are potentially automatable. This includes not only occupations that have been deemed to be routine and low-skilled, but is now also starting to include more highly skilled occupations.
Vivienne Ming, a theoretical neuroscientist who has written and presented on the topic of “How to robot-proof your kids,” says that we will need to be creative, adaptive problem solvers to thrive in this new age of AI.
Occupations that will be harder to unbundle (i.e. breaking down existing responsibilities into smaller, more routine tasks) will stand a better chance of not being automated. Occupations that involve caring for, educating or overseeing humans should also continue to fare quite well. For the time being, occupations that rely on varying degrees of abstract thinking, interpersonal skills and creativity will also continue to thrive.
We will all need to improve our ability to learn – to become more practical learners who can adeptly identify and absorb only the most pertinent information from the continuous, high-volume flows of data we now face.
There are many other factors that could affect the world of work on both the micro and macro levels. This includes political shifts, demographic changes, global warming, unanticipated advancements (i.e. disruptions) in technology, global trade agreements, etc.
The key is to be able to spot any new trends as they emerge and then determine how much of an impact they could have on your own career and employment situation. Contacting industry or occupation-specific professional associations is one reliable way to check into this.
So, can we prepare our youth to find meaningful careers in the future of work? I have been using this question as a lens to provide more effective guidance to my son. As his journey moves him ever closer to a meaningful career, I have confidence that he will continue to utilize these readily available resources to help him thrive amid the disruption of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.