Why children need to be tomorrow’s triple threat

The future can be frightening because of its uncertainty – and the trick is teaching children to face it with creativity and an open mind, says Sue Freestone
7th April 2017, 1:00am
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Why children need to be tomorrow’s triple threat


In the entertainment world, a so-called triple threat is someone who excels at acting, singing and dancing. Think Ryan Gosling, who mastered all three in his role in La La Land.

It makes me wonder: to what extent should we be preparing today’s young people to be the triple threats of the future in terms of their careers?

More and more people these days have portfolio careers. Over a lifetime, they may change job direction several times. Where hard work, perseverance and a bit of luck once saw you up the career ladder, people living in the gig economy may find themselves juggling several jobs at a time.

Deloitte’s Cathy Benko - co-author of The Corporate Lattice - suggests that this ladder model dates to the industrial revolution, with its economies of scale, standardisation and a strict hierarchy.

She argues that today’s career paths are increasingly fluid, with young college leavers likely to follow a zig-zag rather than a straight path. If she is right, how should that impact on the way we educate our children?

Schools used to pick out areas of strength and tell young people the courses and career paths they should pursue. Pupils might have felt compelled to follow well-trodden familial paths. One thing was pretty sure: once a career was identified, the path would often be steady.

No more. The only certainty we can offer students is that we have not a clue what their future will hold. All we can do is our utmost to keep attitudes flexible; minds open to change.

Portfolio of skills

Benko tells us it is important for young people to acquire a portfolio of transferable skills to stay relevant in the digital age. Is that enough? We cannot delegate digital to those wanting work in the IT industry any more than we can restrict creativity to the performing arts.

So how do we prepare children for that at school? What kind of things come under the heading of transferable skills? Self-belief and the courage to take risks are crucial. We must reward creative thinking, ingenious problem-solving and questioning the status quo.

Recently, we have been told to teach entrepreneurialism, but the current assessment framework rarely acknowledges this.

Reality TV and cut-throat competitions seem to provide that agenda, void of values and proper guidance. Benko says the future involves a more collaborative environment, but these competitions do little for this.

There is a distinct plus side to the crumbling of the bygone career ladder. Entrepreneurial environments can be exciting, and the role of leaders may prove the main constant in the evolving world of work. Leaders need to articulate a vision and create and nurture belief in a shared purpose for the collective good.

The trick will be to move away from the depressing self-interest that seems to be a defining characteristic of the 2010s. That can only be a good thing.

The origins of the term gig economy are worth considering. It came from freelance musicians and actors - self-employed people who have succeeded by virtue of their talent, commitment, determination and personal courage.

Sue Freestone is headteacher of King’s Ely in Cambrridgeshire

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