The Holy Grail of fu­ture work

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Un­der­stand­ing the fu­ture of work is dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble. Ac­cord­ing to the MacArthur Foun­da­tion, 65% of to­day’s school­child­ren will even­tu­ally be em­ployed in jobs that don’t ex­ist yet.

As tech­nol­ogy, glob­al­i­sa­tion, and many other fac­tors con­tinue to re­de­fine work, one con­stant will be the need for soft skills, or “skills for life.”

Peer-to-peer de­lib­er­a­tion, brain­storm­ing, and col­lab­o­ra­tion are fa­mil­iar to work­ing pro­fes­sion­als to­day, but we can’t as­sume that they come nat­u­rally, es­pe­cially to the mil­lions of stu­dents with­out ac­cess to proper train­ing and col­lege- and ca­reer-plan­ning re­sources. In fact, a grow­ing global skills gap sug­gests that many young work­ers are al­ready falling be­hind.

Ac­cord­ing to the United States Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics, the US econ­omy has 5.9 mil­lion job open­ings, while 7.8 mil­lion peo­ple re­main un­em­ployed. In Europe, 5.6 mil­lion young peo­ple are un­em­ployed, while an­other two mil­lion are nei­ther work­ing nor in school.

As young peo­ple world­wide ex­press their ea­ger­ness to work, many busi­nesses say they strug­gle to find can­di­dates with the ap­pro­pri­ate qual­i­fi­ca­tions for open po­si­tions. For ex­am­ple, one re­cent sur­vey in East Africa found as many as 63% of re­cent grad­u­ates “lack­ing job mar­ket skills.”

This skills gap is ex­tremely ex­pen­sive. In China, it is es­ti­mated to cost the econ­omy $250 bil­lion an­nu­ally. In the US, the an­nual cost is $160 bil­lion, with com­pa­nies los­ing $14,000 for ev­ery job un­filled for longer than three months, while tax­pay­ers bear the cost of un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance and other safety-net pro­grams. In the United King­dom and Aus­tralia, re­spec­tively, the skills gap costs $29 bil­lion and $6 bil­lion per year.

When jobs are un­filled for too long, they are more likely to be per­ma­nently out­sourced to coun­tries with lower labour costs or a bet­ter-suited tal­ent pool. This trend is now threat­en­ing tra­di­tion­ally sta­ble economies; ac­cord­ing to some es­ti­mates, by 2020 as many as 23 mil­lion work­ers in and job op­por­tu­ni­ties. Only 9% of peo­ple within this un­der­priv­i­leged de­mo­graphic earn a col­lege de­gree, whereas col­lege is a pre­req­ui­site for most jobs in to­day’s econ­omy. By 2018, over 60% of the 47 mil­lion job open­ings in the US will re­quire some kind of post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion. And in Europe, less than 25% of stu­dents feel they have re­ceived suf­fi­cient in­for­ma­tion on post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The skills gap and the op­por­tu­nity gap go hand in hand. If we do not im­prove ac­cess to col­lege-level ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reer-ready skills train­ing for youth from all eco­nomic groups, the skills gap will widen, and in­equal­ity will con­tinue to worsen, with ob­vi­ous im­pli­ca­tions for so­cial and po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity.

For­tu­nately, the prob­lem can be solved. Guar­an­tee­ing fu­ture eco­nomic health and sta­bil­ity in an era of un­prece­dented change re­quires, at a min­i­mum, that we ex­pand ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and skills train­ing for all fu­ture work­force par­tic­i­pants – not just a select few.

What­ever ap­proach we take must be col­lab­o­ra­tive and com­pre­hen­sive, en­sur­ing that young peo­ple learn the soft skills they will ac­tu­ally need for all fu­ture sce­nar­ios. With tar­geted fund­ing and a shared strate­gic frame­work, gov­ern­ments, ed­u­ca­tors, and busi­nesses can close the skills gap for the cur­rent crop of young peo­ple, and for gen­er­a­tions yet to come.

To­day’s young peo­ple are di­verse, smart, and de­ter­mined to tackle the chal­lenges fac­ing to­mor­row’s work­force. Pri­vate and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to teach to­day’s stu­dents how to pre­pare for those chal­lenges.

With the right strat­egy, we can help mil­lions of young peo­ple se­cure a place in the twenty-first-cen­tury econ­omy. Ev­ery stu­dent de­vel­op­ing soft skills to­day could po­ten­tially change the world for the bet­ter in the decades to come. That will be a fu­ture from which we will all ben­e­fit.

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