AT THE AGE OF JUST 11, FUTURE EMPLOYEES ARE ALREADY LEARNING SKILLS FOR THE CAREERS OF THE FUTURE
Why schoolchildren as young as 11 are training for jobs that don’t yet exist.
In one of the sleek, architecturally designed classrooms of Sydney’s University of Technology, 30 students are finalising business plans for their start-up ideas. One group is working on the design for an online anti-bullying filter. Another has plans for CCTV drones to replace fixed cameras, with the aim of reducing urban crime rates.
Using laptops, ipads and projector screens, they’re going over detailed marketing plans and prototypes, and nutting out strategies to outmanoeuvre potential competitors.
But these entrepreneurs aren’t undergraduates in the middle of a business degree. They’re children – with an average age of 11. They’re part of a two-day school-holiday program called Lemonade Stand, the brainchild of start-up whiz Steve Glaveski, co-founder of innovation consultancy Collective Campus.
Swiping and typing with an ease that comes from working with computers almost since they were born, these students are learning the sort of real-life skills that will likely be of far more use to them than the traditional
“three Rs” when they find themselves navigating the jobs of the future.
“We had to pick a problem and develop a product to fix that problem,” explains 13-year-old James Occhiuto, from Bondi, whose entrepreneurial streak already extends to importing stickers from overseas and selling them at a mark-up in his school’s playground. “Tomorrow we’re making a website and an app. It’s really cool.”
His dad, Phillip, heard about the course on the radio and realised it taught the sort of skills James wasn’t learning in school. “I’m self-employed myself, and it seems that schools teach you to be an employee rather than business-minded,” he says. “With everything changing so fast, you have to stay on top of things, and this course seems like the right thing for kids who think a bit differently.”
Having a creative brain and a thirst for self-starting are skills most children will need when they enter the workplace of 2020 and beyond. The world is in the middle of an employment upheaval that looks to be as transformative as the industrial revolution, and virtually none of the old rules apply.
Up to five million Australian jobs, or 40 per cent of today’s workforce, will disappear in the next 10 to 15 years, according to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, and in regional areas, it will be as much as 60 per cent of jobs. Robotics will replace many of them, largely in the traditional sectors of manufacturing, agriculture and manual labour, and in their place we should see a rise in tech jobs and lots of part-time roles that require more flexibility and adaptability. Already, two-thirds of the jobs created in the past five years have been part-time or casual.
To keep up with these changes, says futurist Mark Mccrindle, people will need to be nimble – forget about the old idea of saying, “I want to be a doctor,” or, “I want to be a teacher.” While there will still be demand for these essential service jobs, a better way of arming your children for the future is to teach them multiple skills and the ability to innovate, communicate and be comfortable with technology, rather than focusing heavily on one area.
“The future will demand that people enhance their skill base,” explains Mccrindle. “We’ll see a move away from low-skilled jobs, which will be outsourced or offshored. People skills, and adaptive, innovative and creative skills, will count for more and more.” Or, as Glaveski puts it: “Kids are always asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ but perhaps we should ask them, ‘What do you want to create?’”
It’s not just the next generation that is readjusting to the new workplace rules. Many adults are adapting on the run, moving away from the nine-to-five to jobs that allow them to pursue that elusive unicorn, work/life balance.
Lisa Hodgkins, 38, was a full-time education professional before she had her two children, now aged five and two. Today, she works as part of the “gig economy”, or share economy, trading her time, skills and possessions for income. She rents her garage and a storage cage for $450 per month via Spacer.com.au; her car through Carnextdoor.com.au, which earns her around $350 a month; and pet-sits via Madpaws.com.au, for an extra $400 per month.
“The flexibility is fantastic – I get to spend time with my kids and contribute to the family without being part of the rat race,” says Hodgkins, although she admits that the arrangement only works thanks to the reliability of her husband’s regular income.
And this may hint where the brave new economy is likely to hit hiccups. Flexibility and nimbleness sound exciting and liberating – until you need to make regular mortgage payments. Hurling yourself bravely into a start-up might be doable when you’re young and have the financial support of your parents, but is it realistic for someone in their 50s, or someone from a lower socioeconomic background who needs a liveable income straight out of school? And how much of it will be available to anyone without access to high-quality education, anyway?
“The old jobs are not coming back,” says journalist and social entrepreneur Federico Pistono. “The new jobs will be highly sophisticated, technically and creatively challenging jobs, and only a handful of them will be needed. The question is: what will the unskilled workers of today do? So far, nobody has been able to answer that question.”
Part of the answer needs to lie with government policy. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has long been an advocate of up-skilling our workforce to face the demands of a technology and ideas economy, and has committed $84 million to boost digital literacy and encourage students to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. But there’s still a long way to go. Only 70 per cent of university graduates find full-time employment within four months of graduation.
Glaveski hopes that quick-thinking, fast-acting government departments have the foresight to partner with organisations like his to train teachers about the true future needs of their students: “They go on about it enough – ‘We’ve got to innovate; we’ve got to look to the future.’ Enough lip service. Start really getting behind the change.”
“Kids are always asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ but we should ask them, ‘What do you want to create?’”