Your child’s job probably doesn’t exist yet

Alison Kay,

Global Vice Chair - Industry EY

More about the author

As Global Vice Chair of Industry, Alison’s role is to help businesses navigate disruption across industry sectors and help balance between growth, profit and trust.  She joined EY in 2007 with a strong background in advisory and utilities. 

The job market is evolving rapidly, and the workplace of the future will soon be upon us. As business leaders and mentors, what should we be doing to prepare?

Future job – child with tablet pretending to be an astronaut

As a business leader, I find statistics like this exciting: “65% of children in primary schools today will work in jobs that don’t exist yet.”    

As a parent, I find it sets my pulse racing in quite a different way. How am I – how are any of us – supposed to prepare our children for a future that is so unpredictable?

The digital revolution

Every day I see the realities of disruption: we are on the cusp of a technology revolution that will change our world as much as the industrial revolution transformed the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Similar to the Industrial Revolution, it’s going to bring about seismic shifts in everything from geopolitics to business to our daily lives.

Recently, I gave a speech on this topic at my daughter’s school. Two things that struck me from the questions I was asked were just how keen other parents were to understand this revolution, and how concerned they were at how it will affect the world our children will live in.

The accelerating pace of change

Think about how fast apps catch on now. The latest mobile game craze took just 60 days to reach 50m users. It looks on track to earn $1 billion in revenue by the end of its first year. This is a game that came onto the market in July and hasn’t even finished its global release yet.

New companies are blazing to success with increasing speed. There are two businesses that didn’t exist when I became a parent; now they’re worth billions. The first is the world’s largest room booking service, which doesn’t own any hotels. The second is the world’s largest taxi service, which doesn’t own any taxis (though that model may change with driverless taxis).

Along with skyrocketing success comes an equally fast fall from grace. Research by Richard Foster, a lecturer at the Yale School of Management, revealed that the average lifespan of a Standard & Poor’s company has shrunk from 67 years in the 1920s to 15 years today. Just 15 years. At this rate, 75% of today’s big companies, 75% of the names you know, won’t be around in 2027.

What’s changing?

As I explored in my blogs on innovation and the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions in China, there are a host of new technologies and accelerators taking us into new terrain. These include robotics, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, blockchain, the Internet of Things, nano technology and 3D printing, to name a few.

The greater speed and “connectedness” of the future will change how the next generation interact, how they learn, how they live and what jobs they hold.

An architect of the future will use materials and technology that haven’t been invented yet. An engineer of the future might be working for a technology company that reprograms diseased cells.

Even if we told them, “Be an architect, engineer, doctor, business leader,” it won’t be the same job in 20 years. An architect of the future will use materials and technology that haven’t been invented yet. An engineer of the future might be working for a technology company reprogramming diseased cells. A doctor of the future, well, what will be their role when people get all sorts of data on their personal health from wearables and they’re 3D printing pills in their own homes?

Architect of the future – child with wooden building blocks

Helping the next generation to deal with uncertainty

We can help the next generation, who have not yet entered the workplace, by being alert to the scale of change taking place. By educating ourselves. By talking to them. Because there’s no point sticking our heads in the sand. Yes, a technology revolution is underway. But there are two sides to that coin: with great change comes great opportunity.

Other than encouraging them to interact with technology – and to think about the creation side of it, not just consumption – I think the best we can do as parents, mentors and business leaders is support qualities that will help them to deal with and work through uncertainty.

For me, the most important qualities are a willingness to take risks, resilience and self-belief.

For me, the most important qualities are a willingness to take risks, resilience and self-belief.

Embracing risk

As parents and business mentors, we have to build into the next generation a sense that it’s okay to take risks. This starts with taking physical risks in the playground, where they hopefully learn from their mistakes, and moves on to social and cognitive risks in later years. We have to fight against their fear of failure and embarrassment – and stop ourselves from over-protecting them. It’s important for them to ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?”, because that process of identifying risks and thinking through consequences will be useful throughout their lives and careers.

The importance of resilience

As someone leading a team, I can’t tell you how important resilience is. We all make mistakes. We all make bad decisions. But if you have resilience, you don’t give up. You learn from your mistakes. And you do it better the next time. Those are the kinds of people that we need in an age of disruption, where established rules are overturned. We need creative thinkers who know how to dig deep and keep trying.

Instilling self-belief

Possibly the most fundamental of all is self-belief. I really believe self-belief is one of the most important qualities we need to foster in the next generation. There’s something incredibly powerful that happens when the people who you look up to tell you, “Of course you can do it.”

The future is coming, whether we’re ready or not. Automation is on the rise, and the digital revolution is sweeping through the labor market. Let’s make the most of it by encouraging the next generation to embrace change and risk.


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