5 ways to prepare students for jobs of the future

The future of employment is more complicated than just worrying about robots taking our jobs, writes Stephen Evans

Stephen Evans

Future jobs, jobs of the future, Stephen Evans, careers, careers advice

At the Learning and Work Institute, we’ve just published our latest report from our ongoing Youth Commission.

First set up in the summer of 2018, our aim was to improve education and employment opportunities for 16- to 24-year-olds across England.

So far, we’ve found that the opportunities for young people vary widely across the country, that progress has stalled in some fields – like the number of young people getting level 3 qualifications – and that we have a raft of initiatives that are good but rarely as joined up as they should be.

Changing world of work

Our latest report looks at how the world is likely to change over the coming decades. This is important because, even if our current education and employment systems were designed perfectly for today’s labour market, they may not set young people up well for the future.

Think about how much things have changed over the last 40 years. In 1978, 24 per cent of people worked in manufacturing, today, it’s 8 per cent. Today, people are twice as likely to work in professional and scientific roles or in the hospitality and health sectors. 

The demographics of who works and the ways in which people work have also changed. In particular, women are far more likely to be in work than 40 years ago and self-employment has risen across all sectors.

Working for longer

Some of these changes could have been predicted at the time, others couldn’t. The same is true now. Technology, trade and government policy will all have impacts on jobs and skills that we cannot fully know. But there are some things we can say.

The first is that young people will work for longer than previous generations, with 50-year careers being the norm. Our workforce will become more diverse: the number of women participating in the labour market will rise, and so will the number of people with disability.

We also know that the type of jobs and skills needed within jobs are going to change. An ageing population will mean more people working in health and social care. Across the economy, the job roles that are growing disproportionately require interpersonal and cognitive skills, a core foundation of literacy, numeracy and digital skills, and customer and personal service skills.

All of this considered, there’s an increased need for young people to update their skills, and potentially to change jobs, more often. Otherwise, we risk a tale of two countries, with some young people not getting the guidance, help or support they need.

Five key lessons

So our learning, skills and employment systems need to help prepare all young people for this future. Our new Youth Commission report draws out five key lessons for doing this:

  1. We need a greater focus on tackling educational and inequalities between demographic groups and geographic areas. Otherwise, increased diversity in who participates in the labour market means these inequalities will reinforce each other.
  2. We need to build likely changes in the jobs available into careers advice while recognising the uncertainty that surrounds any projection.
  3. We need to support employers and young people to work more flexibly, including to help people who have multiple caring responsibilities.
  4. We need to make sure all young people get a core of literacy, numeracy and digital skills, as they will be required in many more jobs and also help young people to adapt to change.
  5. We need to help young people build their adaptability and flexibility, which will increasingly be at a premium as longer working lives coincide with significant economic change.

Most weeks, there seems to be a new report about how many jobs the robots are going to take. In practice, things are more complicated than that. A combination of demographic and economic changes mean young people will need a solid core of skills and an open mindset to adapt and change. That’s a challenge for us all – it’s difficult enough to design policies and services fit for today, let alone ready for tomorrow.

Stephen Evans is chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute

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