Young people don’t have the skills for future jobs
Published: May 3, 2016 – 12:00AM
So, what do you want to be when you grow up? We have been putting this question to children and young people since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Whatever answer young people proffered – engineer, accountant, hairdresser, dentist, teacher, scientist, doctor – would then point them to the training they would need, and whether they should go to university or TAFE or enter an apprenticeship.
Today that question no longer serves. The assumption on which it is predicated – a single career for life in a stable workforce – is now false. The world of work is in a massive transition to an ever more global, technology-driven, flexible economy in which whole professions are being altered, new professions are coming into existence, and traditional jobs are being swallowed by automation.
To cite just one example, app developers were a rare breed until the launch of the iPhone in 2007; now it is a thriving industry in its own right – at least for now, until a new technology comes along and apps face their own Kodak moment.
The Foundation for Young Australians has been researching this confronting and exciting change to how people earn their daily bread. It has sought to understand the dimensions of this change, the implications for young people – and thereby, the future of this country – and what we need to do to prepare young people for their economic lives.
To that end, the foundation initiated a policy and research program called the New Work Order. Our first report, launched in August 2015, explored the three economic forces – automation, globalisation and collaboration – shaping the future of work. It’s conclusion: In a world where change is the one constant, a 15-year-old today can expect to have upwards of 17 jobs in five different industries over the course of their working life.
Our second report, How Young People are Faring, released in September last year, examined how – and how well – young Australians are being prepared for this new reality. In the new work order, young people will need excellent enterprise skills – digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity, financial savvy, flexibility, the ability to collaborate, self-sufficiency – to survive and thrive in a radically altered economy.
Yet our research shows young people are not ready. According to data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), almost a third of Australian 15-year-olds have low proficiency in both financial literacy and problem solving, and more than a quarter demonstrate low proficiency in digital literacy. Moreover, ever larger numbers of young people will need to become job creators, rather than relying on the old paradigm of being job seekers, yet little is being done in our education systems to embed enterprise skills.
For our most recent report in this series, The New Basics, we compared the skills sought by employers just three years ago with the skills required today. This was done by analysing 4.2 million ads for jobs requiring less than five years of experience. The results were astonishing.
Since 2013 the demand for digital skills has increased by more than 200 per cent, critical thinking by more than 150 per cent, creativity by more than 60 per cent, and presentation skills by 25 per cent. These are the new basics that entrants to the economy already require, and which will be essential in the future.
The report also concludes that jobs that have a strong focus on technical skills, such as dentistry, environmental engineering and veterinary, are now among the most common occupations requiring digital literacy.
The foundation is relentlessly optimistic; we believe Australia is well placed to maximise the opportunities this historic restructure of workforce relations presents. A country of 24 million people with more than 2 million small businesses attests to our willingness and capacity to engage in enterprise.
We must take action, now. It begins with investment in an enterprise education strategy. We need to teach enterprise skills, starting in primary school and building year on year throughout high school. These must be taught in ways students want to learn, through experience and immersion with peers.
We need to support our teachers to equip students for the fluid, complex, enterprising new work order. Concurrently, parents must be provided with information about the skills their children will need to craft and navigate multiple careers. Urgently, we need to engage students, schools, industry and parents to understand the new work order, which although less stable and predictable, is rich in opportunity.
We will achieve a future-ready workforce by embedding the new basics in the DNA of future generations. By investing in the next generation to equip and inspire them for a radically different future of work, we will ensure Australia’s future prosperity.
Next time you are talking with a child or young person about their future, instead of asking , “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” ask them: “So, what kind of opportunities do you want to create?”
Jan Owen is chief executive officer of the Foundation for Young Australians.