How to Prepare Young People for Jobs of the Future
With the world changing as fast as it is - industries rising, evolving and crashing; technology leading to more efficient, effective ways of doing everything; globalization interconnecting us all; and a whole new generation emerging and entering the workforce - how do we best ensure young people are prepared for the world of work from here forward? Keep in mind that along with the jobs being phased out, countless more jobs don't even exist yet.
In order to create employment for those who are graduating, it's important for us to review a system that has become antiquated. Even more critical, however, is to note that our current models of education, career planning and job searching are not just in need of a facelift - we need a major paradigm shift in how we think about training our emerging workforce and the skills they need to have to be relevant, let alone have a chance at being wildly successful.
But we do not need to wait for this shift in order to start teaching the new rules of success every day, in every forum, and every possible platform and channel available to us. It can be done in simple conversations or formalized programs - everyone can play a role in training our young people; they are, after all, our kids, cousins, neighbours, friends, colleagues and employees. The bottom line is that we can all ensure this emerging generation is primed for success, and it's in our best interest to do so. Our future depends on it.
The following 10 skills are most vital to young people entering the workforce:
Ambition changes the opportunity outlooks for a young person dramatically. Employers are increasingly looking to hire for attitude and train for skill, so cultivating ambition and an eagerness to learn and do well are really Step 1 toward a solid future. Young people who are hungry, interested and engaged are infinitely more employable, and when they have a passion for achievement, there are no limits to what they can do. Rather than just hire warm bodies, companies would much rather choose people who show promise and a solid foundation.
Understanding what it means to add value to a company or organization is a fundamental question that should be answered by anyone looking for work, along with appreciating why that's an important question in the first place. Employment is an earned privilege, not a right - even with a fancy diploma in hand, there are no promises or guarantees. People are typically the biggest expense in any organization, and those who add most value have the best job security. Those who don't usually don't stay employed for very long. In a corporate world that is looking more than ever before at operating lean, it's no longer possible to hide and not contribute to a company's financial well-being.
The vast majority of young people struggle with explaining what they want to do, what work-related activities interest them, what transferable skills they have, and which industries or positions might best suit them. As a result, when they set out to market themselves, or interview with potential employers, they offer little useful information, and instead rely on those doing the hiring to find the right fit and figure it out. Recruiters are not career counselors - selling oneself in the job market is the responsibility of the seeker! Relying on our institutions or parents to "place" young people in jobs is a practice fraught with problems, and enabling entitlement or minimizing the importance of self-sufficiency - or the fortitude to secure meaningful work - are only a few of the drawbacks. Teaching people to pitch themselves effectively early in their working lives enables them to find employment on their own over a lifetime.
The basis of any solid employment marketing campaign (job search) is the actual skill base a worker presents to potential employers. At the most fundamental level, soft skills like interpersonal communication, the ability to speak and write correctly and present ideas clearly, are the areas most often cited when employers discuss the downside of hiring young people. Dressing appropriately (highly subjective these days) is also considered a critical part of communication. So despite the constant "communication" through technology that has dominated young lives, they are at a massive disadvantage because in person those soft skills are not present.
Besides being a good person to work with and around, bringing some substantive expertise to the table cannot be urged enough. It doesn't matter what the topic, as long as it's valuable in the marketplace (remember the "Adding Value" piece above?). Ideally, expertise is transferable to other applications and industries too - and it's important to note that attending specialty schools and formal training programs are not the only ways to acquire expertise. It can and should be cultivated constantly, with young people maximizing every opportunity to read, learn, volunteer, train, practice or work.
Every industry relies on its own lexicon of terminology to operate and communicate. Often these are technical concepts, processes or acronyms that sound foreign to people new to a field. Teaching young people to learn the language of a given workplace, industry or role is directly related to how smart they will sound and how well they will function in an environment, and dramatically improve their chance of securing jobs because companies will first choose someone who needs less time to be brought up to speed.
When young people are supported in pursuing fields that are of true interest, they are more likely to want to learn more and become well-versed in those areas. Intellectual curiosity leads to better educated and more informed workers, who can quickly cultivate themselves into real talent with a little help. The more inspired and motivated they are, and the more space they are given to explore, create and innovate, the more their potential becomes unlimited. This is an important consideration given that school curriculum often focus on a core set of skills, and other programs such as art, music or other non-academics are eliminated.
The concept of context is a vital one to address with young people, from 4 key perspectives:
- The working world operates by a different set of rules than most homes and schools. Training young people to acclimate to the adult world of work requires a dramatic shift in routines and expectations from a lifetime of studying and attending classes.
- Different workplaces have different expectations about dress, attendance, communication, metrics for success and even use of personal technologies. Expectations that aren't clearly understood are difficult to meet and that sets everyone up for failure.
- It is a big problem that most young graduates don't understand how business fundamentally works and is organized. For example, what is the difference between marketing and sales, or operations? What signs would signal that a company or industry is hiring, or worth studying or pursuing jobs in? How does one company fare in a market of other competitors (who happen to be other potential employers too)? What do industries look like?
- How do we all fit into the bigger context of the world economy as global citizens? With a billion young people entering the workforce, there's a lot of competition, but also plenty of untapped opportunity.
All of these conversations, if nothing else, break young people from the idea that they're the center of the universe. Or, conversely, that their world is small, restricted and their options are limited.
Students, unemployed people and those in jobs they hate are all missing opportunities to improve their circumstances and marketability by building experience, which can be acquired in countless ways. In many cases, they can do so simply by volunteering time to local organizations, businesses, campaigns and community events. The more relevant to the skills or the industries someone wants to use at work, the better. With countless organizations struggling to survive and grow, but desperate for help they cannot afford, volunteering or interning can be the perfect opportunity for people to gain practical experience and connections, and to seed future opportunities. Even if the opportunities are unpaid, by staying active and engaged makes the unemployed infinitely more marketable.
Teaching young people to be solution-driven (rather than easily deterred by failure) makes them more valuable, competitive and self-sufficient. When people are resourceful, they will always entertain new ideas, approaches and possibilities. Entrepreneurship education and experience is an excellent way to drive this home and make young people more resourceful, as are hackathons, leadership activities and organizations. Cultivating resourcefulness as a skill prepares young people for jobs that may not yet exist; in fact, the more resourceful they are, the more likely the next generation will be to create their own jobs - and companies that will create jobs for others.
Originally published on the Huffington Post on January 25th 2014.