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Comment: How can we prepare young people for jobs that don’t yet exist?

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Industry and academia need to stop offering traditional ‘careers advice’ and focus instead on the skills that their future employees are going to need to succeed.

Young people today have a lot to cope with. Eco-anxiety; the rise in mental health issues; pressure to perform academically; living in an increasingly digital world – these things all weigh heavily on their shoulders. Making the transition from full-time education into work is a complex milestone and while the Fourth Industrial Revolution may not currently be at the forefront of many young people’s minds, it is another issue that could significantly impact their lives when it comes to choosing a career.

We do not yet know the roles that will be created as a consequence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but we do know that many traditional jobs will be displaced by artificial intelligence. It is therefore imperative that young people develop the skills that are needed for future success.

To help them prepare, we first need to acknowledge diversity. According to a recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, young people put limitations on themselves from as young as seven. The ingrained stereotyping that occurs at this young age due to social background, gender and race will inhibit belief in these young students about what is attainable to them.

The only way to address this is to introduce relatable role models from all walks of life. Young people must meet - and be given the opportunity to be inspired by - role models in order to believe their path is possible. Employers in the STE(A)M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) industries should be doing everything in their power to celebrate employees from diverse backgrounds and encourage them to act as role models to young people.

Secondly, we must educate young people on the vast choice of career paths available to them. If a young person is interested in a career in tech, what route should they take? Their school will probably encourage them to go through the traditional A-level/university route, as that is a measurement of their own success, but it’s worth questioning whether an A-level in computing will really draw out the creative juices needed for tech jobs of the future. Is an apprenticeship a better route for some, where they can learn on the job and have no debt incurred from university fees? There are some fantastic companies offering degree apprenticeships. Young people do not have easy access to the information they need to make an informed choice for their future career, so we need to communicate that better.

The Government recently launched T-levels, designed to provide further career pathways for young people. Whilst the idea of T-levels – an opportunity for college students to spend a significant amount of time getting work experience – is a sound one, it is worth questioning where all this work experience is going to come from. How will parents and students be clear that the work experience will be valuable? This pathway has to be high quality or it will not succeed.

There is a difficult argument, too, as to why a young person would take a T-level rather than an apprenticeship, where they will earn money and potentially have a job at the end of it. Raising awareness of the critical differences between apprenticeships and T-levels will be key over the next year. If the argument for building skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution through T-levels was made clear, it would make for a stronger proposition.

The Engineering Development Trust’s vision is for a society where young people across the UK have equal access to engage with STE(A)M activities, achieve their potential in STEM careers and have the opportunity for further study in STE(A)M subjects. The Fourth Industrial Revolution describes the exponential changes to the way we live, work and relate to one another due to the adoption of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things and the Internet of Systems. We must stop offering ‘careers advice’ in the traditional sense and rather focus on the skills that young people will need to succeed as they start work in this revolution.

Research carried out in 2016 by the Social Market Foundation found that 142,000 new jobs will be needed in science, engineering and technology from 2017 to 2023 and that these jobs will grow twice as fast as other careers. Therefore, a strong message to young people is that a career in this space will evolve and will be exciting. Whether they become an entrepreneur or work in a corporate environment, they can succeed. As a sector, we must work collaboratively to offer quality engagement with role models, STE(A)M activities and careers and create clear pathways to ensure we have the right talent for our sector.

Julie Feest is CEO of the Engineering Development Trust

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