What do you want to be when you grow up? We were all asked this panic-inducing question at some point in our lives – many of us probably still aren’t quite sure of the answer.
But, for those growing up at the moment, working out what you want to do with your future is more daunting than ever. The workplace is changing rapidly. Thanks to the digital revolution and effects of globalisation, many jobs are predicted to change or disappear in the coming years and the generation this will affect the most is our children. This uncertainty, combined with rising university fees and crippling student debt, means equipping them with the right tools for the future has never felt more important.
But can you really “future-proof” your child? To find out, The Pool held an event in partnership with EY in London last week. Hosted by The Pool co-founder Lauren Laverne, the panel included award-winning career coach Carolyn Parry; consultant clinical psychologist Professor Tanya Byron; education journalist Laura McInerney; student and deputy chair of the EY Foundation’s School to Work National Youth Panel Alex Otubanjo; and Kerstyn Comley PhD, co-founder of a new “safe space” app for teenagers, MeeTwo.
Kicking off the debate, the panel reflected on how different the world of work is now compared with previous generations – and how that impacts on how we talk to our children about their futures.
“Our grandparents entered a profession when they were 16 and that was it for life,” said Kerstyn Comley. “Now, there isn’t one single career path that anyone is going to take and we have to be comfortable with that.
“Parents need to get away from the idea of ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’ – because that implies that there is only one thing you can do. Instead, we should be saying, ‘What is it you love to do? What are you interested in?’”
The digital revolution has opened up a whole new world of career opportunities for young people that didn’t exist even a decade ago. Alex Otubanjo, the youngest member of the panel, has welcomed it. “It’s helped [my generation] feel more positive about our futures and not pigeon-holed into going into certain careers.”
Sometimes we focus on the jobs side instead of building the interpersonal skills that are critical for future-proofing
As new jobs and career paths emerge, others will disappear. But trying to predict the careers of the future is impossible, said Laura McInerney. “We have always had career changes. I grew up near a coal mining town and saw a whole generation lose their profession. I think sometimes we focus on the jobs side instead of building the interpersonal skills that are critical for future-proofing.”
For Professor Tanya Byron, resilience – learning that it’s OK to fail sometimes – is one of the most critical skills young people will need to be able to adapt in the future workplace, but it’s also one that our culture of helicopter parenting is depriving many children of.
“Kids need to be able to bend and bounce back instead of bend and break. Our children are being brought up in a risk-averse society where we’re so overprotective and it’s so results-driven. When have they got a chance to really learn about who they are and feel OK with failing sometimes?”
Carolyn Parry agreed that parents can too often rely on their children’s success to validate their own parenting skills. “Quite often, our kid become an extension of who we are and their success is reflected back at us. We have to give time and space for each child to find their own particular thing.”
There was also debate on whether the education system is serving children as well as it should. “Some of the things we teach in school don’t ever get used by the majority of people when they go into the workplace,” said Comley. “We need a rethink of what we really need – things like how to get better at conflict resolution or how to complete a tax return.”
Higher education has also come under scrutiny recently, with the government announcing it is reviewing post-18 education and Theresa May challenging “outdated” attitudes that favour university over technical education.
As part of their Parental Advice campaign, EY conducted research with 2,000 British parents of children aged 14-16 and found 95 per cent felt that more young people doing apprenticeships straight from school was a good thing for the UK as a whole, yet 25 per cent would send their children to university regardless. Many parents still feel pressured to push their children down an academic route, but universities don’t always equip our children with the tools they need to succeed in the future – and are landing graduates with whopping debt (a recent study from the Institute For Fiscal Studies shows it now stands at over £50K).
Professor Tanya Byron said a lot of parents ask the question “If I don’t play the game, am I setting my child up for failure?”, but people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who both dropped out of university, show that the traditional academic route isn’t right for everyone. “You don’t have to be brilliant now to be great later,” said Professor Byron.
So, what can parents do to equip their children for a rapidly changing workplace? “Have the courage and the confidence to let your child explore and discover who they are,” said Comley. “Allow children to take risks, but listen to them and be there to support them if they fail at something.”
For Carolyn Parry, it’s then about helping them find a way to use those passions and interests to create a career that will fulfil them: “If you want to future-proof your child, help them become entrepreneurial, help them be a self-starter, give them the mindset and character and values to go and make the difference they want to make. Help them understand how to use their unique talents to do something that gives them pleasure and purpose.”