The world that is emerging all around us is both exciting and scary in equal measure.  Business, download (1)political and societal leaders are working hard to understand the implications of disruptive forces and shifting market conditions.  But once we’ve put the business strategies and marketing plans to one side and caught our breath, the first question most parents (and good uncles, aunts and grandparents) ask is: what about today’s young people?

It is clear that tomorrow’s world is going to be very different from today’s.  It must be true then that the old rules for success and failure in life might not be applicable in the future as they are today.  From a career perspective, we’re already seeing this reality: average job tenure for professionals these days is down to just four years, nearly two-thirds of thirty-somethings with professional qualifications are no longer in a job directly associated with the degree they studied, and the days of “getting a good job in a big company and staying there” are well and truly over.  Some studies show that just over a quarter of the jobs available to twenty year olds today did not even exist when they were born.

And that rate of change is just speeding up.

Even Worse News

If the rate of the change is bad news, there’s even worse news from the world of work.  It has never been harder to be a young person looking for work than it is now.  Youth unemployment is at historical high levels in almost every country in the world.  This is not just for un- or under-skilled workers, but for professionals and graduates as well.  Amongst developed nations, Spain’s situation is the worst with 56% of those aged 18 to 26 not able to find jobs.  These young people have hit the streets with wave after wave of protests over the past few years.

In America and the United Kingdom, there are growing fears of a “jobless recovery”: the economy might recover, but it will do so in ways that don’t generate jobs, especially for young people.  There are a number of key structural reasons for this, including ageing Baby Boomers who are no longer retiring from the job market, automation of office jobs by increasingly intelligent computers and algorithms, and the continued automation of working spaces by robots.  This is already affecting South Africa, where more young people enter the job market every year than jobs are created.

There are many reasons, therefore, to be concerned about the future for our children.

The Right Questions

What work will today’s children be doing in the 2030s and 40s?  What careers will be available for them?  What should they be studying now?  What skills will they need?  Will there be jobs for them?

It was these questions that caught my imagination a few years ago when I collaborated with creative parenting expert, Nikki Bush, to co-author the book, “Future-Proof Your Child”.  The book is a hopeful and helpful one: there are things we can do as parents – for ourselves and our children – to be better prepared for the unpredictable future that’s coming our way.

Here are five simple suggestions.

Staying Ahead of the Game

1.  Keep yourself tech-savvy

Although it’s nice to have the kids around to sort out our technology, it can actually be counter productive to your parenting if you give up trying to keep up and just let the kids take over.  If that sounds like you, then why not get your children to teach you what they know?  Even pay them to do so, so you can be a bit more forceful about making it happen.

Whether you’re able to keep up or not, give your children every chance possible not just to keep up, but to get ahead with technology.  This doesn’t always mean just buying them the latest technology gadgets (although if you can afford it, there’s no downside to doing that).  This is about pushing them into the world of technology whenever and wherever possible.  Watch future focused TV shows with them, and discuss afterwards.  Watch the technology themes TED videos together and discuss those.  Read scientific magazines and have them lying around in your home (I’d suggest New Scientist, Wired and Popular Mechanics).  Take your children to science museums and exhibitions.  And send them on courses to get them programming (by the way, there are lots of these online, and most are for free – so all you really need to provide is some bandwidth, some guidance and some permission).

Also surprise your children with some technology wizardry of your own from time to time.  This will obviously require you to do some reading of tech magazines, watch a tech programme on TV or YouTube or gather some latest news from a technology related website (I’d suggest starting with Wired, TED or Mashable).  But, I suppose you realize that that is precisely the point I am making.  Keep up with technology.  It’s a great life skill for everyone.

2.  Stop fixating on a high school certification

Too many parents continue to measure the success of half a decade in high school by the single piece of paper their child gets at the end of it.  I realize that it is still better to get a degree than to not get a degree, and therefore entry to university is important.  But actually, getting a degree is only better than not getting a degree if the career your heart is set on requires one.  Increasingly, the best careers don’t.  And, of course, the best career for your child is the one where passion intersects with interest and ability.

Too few parents listen enough to what their children actually want and are interested in.  True, today’s young people have less clue about this than ever; but that’s even more of a reason not to just blindly push them for university entrance.

Change your target from achievement to character.  This is easier said than done.  But it is easier done than you imagine.  It is really a mindset shift for yourself, as you change your measures of success at school.  So, what should you be measuring?  I’m glad you asked…

3.  Help young people to develop the X-factors for future success

In the research we did for our book, “Future-Proof Your Child”, Nikki Bush and I discovered that childhood development experts were fairly consistent in suggesting five broad sets of skills for success in the unpredictable world of the future.  The second half of our book listed over 200 practical activities to develop these skills in primary and pre-primary children.  (We’re busy working on the book for parents of teenagers, but many of the activities would be applicable to older children too).

The five “X-factors” for future success (and their key component skills) are:

  • Breaking conventions:  Imagination and play; Creativity; Experimentation; Initiative and proactivity
  • Resilience:  Flexibility; Persistence and perseverance; Learning from failure; Self-discipline and delayed gratification; A sense of humour; Optimism; Self-confidence; Health
  • Learning: Curiosity; Hard work and focus; Information processing and filtering; Mastery of technology
  • Know yourself: Multiple intelligences; Know your strengths (and weaknesses); Future-focused; Emotional intelligence
  • Relate to others: Communication; Teamwork and collaboration; Comfort with diversity; Marketing (Brand You); Networking

These are what you should be developing, measuring and rewarding in your children.

4. Start writing their “Talent Profile” now

A Talent Profile is a document (and/or website) that provides a comprehensive insight into an individual, and attempts to link that person’s strengths and weaknesses to specific opportunities that might be available.  A talent profile differs from a CV in a number of ways:

  • It provides a lot more than factual information about a person; it provides insights into the person’s personality, character and various profiles that define and explain the person.
  • It provides more than just a list of achievements and abilities; it represents a person’s passions and dreams as well.
  • It doesn’t just aim to get a person a job; it aims to ensure that the job someone gets is the type of job they really want to get.
  • It is constantly updated, and is a living document.

Get your children to write a Talent Profile now (we suggest this can be done as young as 7 years old), and then keep it regularly updated.  Constantly add new insights to it, and encourage your children to develop self knowledge.

5.  Build Your Family Brand

Finally, I suggest you define what your family stands for.  This is about your values:  what it means to be part of your family, and how you go about making life decisions.  It’s about what your family does with its time, its resources and what contribution it makes to society.  It’s about how you behave towards each other and towards those not part of your family.  You need to have these discussions fairly regularly as a family – not just when things are not going too well for you.  Write them down, and think of it as your family brand.

Creating a brand is a continual process that needs to take place deliberately and consistently over time – by being “who you are” and by ensuring that everyone in your family buys into and supports the brand.

Tomorrow’s World Today

There are no guarantees of success.  There never were, actually, although it’s tempting to think of the past as being easier times than we have today.  We certainly do live in changing and changeable times, and if the rules for success and failure are shifting, we have to adjust our mindsets too.  Raising the next generation is about the toughest thing any of us can be asked to do at the moment.  And yet it has the potential to be the most rewarding as well.  If we keep these few simple points in mind, and put them into practice, I believe we’ll raise a world-shaping generation of confident, well-adjusted people who will be able to make sense of the turbulence we’re now feeling.  We get to choose the shape of tomorrow’s world by shaping the young people of today.  That’s got to be worth the effort.

Graeme Codrington is co-founder and international director of strategic insights firm, TomorrowToday.  He is the author of four best-selling books on generations and future trends, including the award winning “Mind the Gap” (second edition, Penguin, 2011).  Graeme is a sought after speaker, board advisor and media commentator on disruptive change, and can be contacted at [email protected]

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