The future of work: Preparing your children for the workforce

Understanding the future of work is as important for parents as it is for young adults as they look to transition from school into the workforce. While it’s difficult to accurately predict the jobs of the future, it is possible to identify the skills, the capabilities and proficiencies that will be required. This, combined with a strong sense of self and purpose, is the key to navigating the future of work.

The VUCA world

Today we find ourselves operating in a highly complex and constantly changing world. A little over a decade ago, the US Military coined the acronym VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – to contextualise the environment in Iraq and Afghanistan so the military could build frameworks to manage their response.

A few years later, this terminology found its way into other realms and has since been adopted by business practitioners to help frame our current work environment.

Most of us in recent years, to some extent would have experienced the effects of a VUCA world. It’s the type of environment that can leave any person feeling somewhat overwhelmed, nervous for the future and unsure of next steps. The VUCA model is particularly relevant to parents as they look to assist their children develop strategies to prepare for an unknown future.

One of the hardest things about being a parent is that we don’t want our kids to make the same mistakes as we did. Yet, if we think about it, some of our greatest learnings came from the mistakes we made as children and as young adults, as we explored our interests, tested our capabilities and realised our potential. I believe it’s important to talk about our learnings from our own careers as we develop conversations with our kids. Ultimately, we aim to empower and enable our children to explore their own futures, having the courage and self-leadership to explore what they want to do with purpose and intent.

In the midst of an enormous amount of rhetoric around artificial intelligence and how jobs will disappear into the future, remembering that business is about people is key to helping young adults navigate the complex world of careers.

Business is about people

My philosophy is that business is about people. Often, we give more credit to the brand of a business rather than the organisational capability. For example, we talk about the State Government as a brand who decides on which project goes ahead and which project does not. At the centre of any decision is the capability of the people making a decision.

This approach puts a whole new emphasis on an individual’s capability and contribution to decisions made within any organisational context. It is not brands that make decisions or enable innovation or create impact. It is people – people make the decisions creating value; people create and enable innovation, people enable change; and it is people who ultimately decide on the allocation of resources. So, the capability of organisations is determined by its people.

With this in mind, helping our children to understand their value proposition, their capabilities, their potential and how they can stand out and communicate their value, as people, is critical to the journey.

How to stand out

Currently there are approximately 1,410,000 people enrolled in universities around Australia. Over the years the numbers of university graduates have increased exponentially. Now we find ourselves sometimes questioning the relevance of a degree.

I believe it is important to realise the employment market is highly competitive and that the degree or the study or the pathway chosen at the end of school, does not necessarily determine your success into the future. There are many examples of people who have not studied who have become highly successful business people and many examples of people who have transitioned during their careers.

So how do we help our children stand out in this highly competitive employment market? Here are a few words of advice to pass on:

  1. Demonstrate your ability to communicate effectively – verbally, in writing, and as a member of a team;
  2. Be able to talk about your strengths, capabilities and potential and how these combine to add value and create impact;
  3. Have purpose – move with intent and identify what you want to do as opposed to what you want to be;
  4. Be socially and community minded – get involved in community causes and initiatives that mean something to you. It will open your network with like-minded people;
  5. Be positive, engaged and an active listener. Adopt a mindset of continual learning;
  6. Be conscious of people around you and open your mind and heart so that you adopt the characteristics of a continual learner;
  7. Adopt a mindset open to change and develop resilience – challenges, rejection and hardships are all part of life – how we manage these challenges and importantly, how we bounce back, impact next steps;
  8. Take time to explore opportunities and take time to reflect on what is important as you take your next steps. Rushing into a job or position may lead to dissatisfaction. Remember, the job interview is a two-way process. The candidate should use the employment process to interview the people of the organisation as well.

It is important as a parent, that you talk to your child about what success looks like and modelling a proactive approach to career planning. It’s never too early to start talking about what success looks like. You can have this conversation with your child at any point. Ask them to think about what it looks like now and into the future. By understanding our success factors and expectations, we can measure progress made and also identify gaps for development.

Parents can also help their children to start considering and articulating their value proposition.

Ask questions about their strengths, what they think their capabilities are right now and what they want them to be in the future. Helping them to draw on their natural talents can assist them with formulating a response. We all have natural talents that complement our knowledge, skills and capabilities which together ultimately define our unique value proposition. This proposition of course changes as we grow and develop.

Undergoing the same exercise may help you to translate this conversation for your child.

Focus on strengths

Last but not least, it is important to focus on strengths, not weaknesses. Years ago, we were taught during leadership training to identify weaknesses with the objective to overcome weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

Today’s modern learning is a totally different paradigm. Today experts advise us to concentrate on our strengths so that we can grow and develop our strengths. It is still important to acknowledge and respect our weaknesses, but don’t focus on these. Focus on your strengths – that’s where you will shine.

If we can work with our children and guide them to think about what they want to do day to day to earn a living, rather than what we want to be, it changes our dialogue and flips outcomes so that we are defined by the contribution we can make to business, to the community, to the economy, rather than the title we hold.

Skills of the Future

  • Sense Making: being able to contextualise multiple sets of data – qualitative, quantitative, things that are happening in the environment – political data, technology data, any type of data.
  • Social Intelligence: understanding how to work with different people, how to lead, manage and communicate.
  • Novel and Adaptive Thinking: the ability to be creative, to connect the dots and to imagine what’s possible.
  • Cross-Cultural Competency: the ability to work within or manage teams located across the globe.
  • Computational Thinking: the ability to use your understanding of digital literacy to develop digital problem-solving tools.
  • New Media Literacy: understanding all new media platforms and in particular identifying what are going to enable us to do our jobs better.
  • Transdisciplinary – literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
  • Design Mindset – ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes
  • Cognitive Load Management – ability to discriminate and filter information for importance and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques
  • Virtual Collaboration – ability to work productively, drive engagement and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.