No jobs for life in flexible future

21st November 1997 at 00:00
Imagine being told, at the age of 18, that within 10 years you will probably be doing a job which has not yet been invented, and for which the skills do not yet exist.

Or worse still, that you will endure the disruption and uncertainty of having to change your career three or four times to adapt to the demands of a global economy, and that the knowledge and skills needed in the workplace will become obsolete almost as quickly as you learn them.

This appears to be the future facing today's teenagers and, with that in mind, more than 300 young people from 14 schools attended a "lifestyle forum" last week to think about how they might shape their adult lives.

The forum, called Future Fantastic? and held at the Princess Helena College in Hertfordshire, involved sixth-formers from state and independent schools and was a pilot for what is intended to be a national event in 1998.

Organisers stressed that this was not a careers convention - on the basis that the "job for life" is a concept that is quickly evaporating.

Central to this was the evolution of the global economy and opening up of new markets in Asia and Latin America, the use of technology and the shift in foreign-language learning.

Sir Martin Laing, chairman of John Laing and the UK chairman of the World Wide Fund for Nature, told the students that their future success would lie in their personal adaptability. He said 40-year-long careers and jobs for life were "no longer a reality".

"The people who will be active participants in the global economy will be those who can think differently from the herd, discover new thought processes and find new ways of solving problems," he said.

"You will be the first generation to be completely open-minded and see the world for what it is and react to it. There will be no restraints on what you can do."

Sir Martin added that one of the greatest dilemmas for the adults of tomorrow would be whether to sacrifice aspects of their private lives in the pursuit of higher wages, or to devote more time to themselves and settle for less money.

But Graham Finlay, accounts director at Sedgwick Noble Lowndes, warned youngsters that they would have to be flexible in the workplace.

He said those who could not adapt to learning new skills or keep up with the pace of technological advance would find it difficult to "fit in".

Environmentalist Professor Chris Baines, meanwhile, urged the sixth-formers to take seriously the future of the planet.

He said that too many people were seeking "big solutions to big problems", such as air pollution, when individuals could ease the effects by walking short journeys rather than driving their cars.

Professor Baines said young people were conscious of environmental issues but had not learned to translate the theory into practice.

The participants said they found the prospect of an uncertain future daunting. Some said they would now review their career options, while others were disappointed to learn they might have to choose between high wages and more leisure time.

Pupils from St Francis' College in Letchworth, said they wanted both. But they added that the forum had forced them to acknowledge that, as adults, they would have certain responsibilities.

Alice Rochester, aged 16, who plans to become an interior designer, said: "Until now, it had not occurred to me that I might work in Europe and there may be a market there for what I want to do."

Anisha Mistry, aged 17, said: "I find the thought of possibly having to change careers and constantly learn new skills a bit frightening. It doesn't sound like a very secure life to me."

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