From jobs to skills: how can we better prepare young people for the world of work?

Travelling to a conference by air last year, we were among a throng of confused looking faces wondering where our airline customer service agent had got to. No, we weren’t lost, we hadn’t gone to the wrong check in zone, nor had we been abandoned (well, in some sense of the word). Instead we were guided to a self service kiosk to weigh, print out and attach our bag ties ourselves.

As we waved goodbye to our luggage, we stood there thinking: well, there goes another job to automation.

This digital innovation is happening faster than ever. We’ve heard the rumours that robots want our jobs, and that hearsay is fast becoming a reality. According to a new McKinsey report, 50% of the jobs carried out by humans today are vulnerable to replacement by robots. And while this is an issue that affects everyone, for the purpose of this article, I’m going to focus on what we need to do to help those at the first rung of the ladder.

More than half of students are chasing careers that may not exist in the next decade

The latest research from the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) tells us that nearly 60% of Australian students are studying for jobs that could become obsolete in the next 10 - 15 years due to automation. For those studying Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses, that number jumps to 71%.

Yet these predictions are not meant to represent doom and gloom; instead they need to be viewed as a wake up call to shake up our current education system and give young people the training they need to navigate the choppy waters they are likely to encounter after education.

Jan Owen, CEO of the FYA says that the careers advice we’re currently providing is outdated. Linear careers will be less common, in fact, young people could experience, on average, 5 career changes and 17 different jobs in their working life. Technology will replace some jobs and others will emerge.

But how do you train someone for a job that doesn’t exist yet?

We need shift our mindset, and fast. Here’s where the FYA come in again.

They suggest a new approach to education and training, one that supports portable skills so that students aren’t stuck with qualifications in a profession that may or may not exist for the lifespan of their careers.

The approach is to learn skills related to a job cluster, of which, the FYA has identified 7:

  1. The Generators (sellers and servers)
  2. The Artisans (building and maintenance)
  3. The Designers (construction and engineering)
  4. The Coordinators (administrative tasks)
  5. The Informers (teach and provide information)
  6. The Carers (improve the wellbeing of others)
  7. The Technologists (technical digital skills)

By choosing a job cluster rather than one specific dream job, young people will have more flexibility to move into the unknown jobs of the future. The key is to be open to the fact that jobs are more relatable than we might think. On average, when someone trains for 1 job they acquire skills that are relevant to 13 other jobs.

Taking the next step in thinking skills, not just careers

Reform doesn’t happen overnight. But we’ve all got a part to play in innovating and supporting this change.

It could be encouraging students to reflect on the job clusters that best match their interests and strengths, revising the curriculum in support of the job cluster approach, or being open and flexible to relatable work experience.

Our role at Industry Skills Advisory Council NT (ISACNT) is to develop a skilled workforce across the Territory through proactive engagement and research, and we recognise that Vocational Education and Training (VET) reform is key to our goal.

Whether you’re a business thinking about taking on an apprentice or upskilling your employees, a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) looking for industry insight in support of your training packages or a school needing advice on how to ensure students are learning skills for tomorrow’s workplace, we’re here to help. Contact us to arrange a meeting.