21st Feb 2018

Goodbye Jobs, Hello Robots? Here’s how automation and AI will affect your kids’ future in the job market


As a parent, you worry about all aspects of your child’s life. And it’s not just today that concerns you, but tomorrow and the next day and the next. Your child’s future is at the forefront of your mind, even as you manage the problems of the present. Every parent wants what is best for their children, but when it comes to the future, you can only control so much.

It’s no surprise, then, that hearing about the potential for the future can be so disquieting; especially when it comes to technology.

Automation and artificial intelligence are growing by leaps and bounds, and there’s plenty of news circulating about these concepts. As a society we are still grappling with the impact of these strange ideas, particularly with regards to the future of the workplace. While these articles and studies can only offer speculation into the future, there are many reports that border on extreme. Some of it is anxiety-inducing.

As parents, we sit up and take notice.

Wild headlines suggest a takeover by robots, who will be stealing hundreds of thousands of jobs. And it’s not necessarily so unbelievable.

Robots can perform surgeries with exacting precision. Popular ridesharing app Uber has begun making plans to transition to driverless cars. And here are 12 jobs in China that robots can already do.

For parents especially, these announcements can feel daunting, if not downright overwhelming. What can our children expect for their futures?

Fortunately, there’s also abundant research to suggest that the rising new technologies will actually produce a boom in the number of jobs. The 2017 report from McKinsey Global Institute posits that hundreds of millions of new jobs will emerge as we approach 2030. While the same report does suggest that automation will replace significant numbers of jobs, the data seems to indicate that there will be a reassuring balance of jobs lost and jobs created. These numbers may point to a metamorphosis of the modern workplace, not a decimation. In Australia, Google suggested that increased automation in our country would result in economic gains of up to $1.2 trillion by 2030.

While there’s no precise certainty what the future of work may be, parents can take heart.

The best thing you can do to help your children move toward their brightest future is to be informed and be prepared, and then help them do the same. 

Will the robots take all the jobs? There’s definitely more to the story…

It Starts at Home

The latest predictions regarding automation largely stem from the same McKinsey report referenced above. This is one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind in recent years, making it a fairly authoritative resource. Economic forecasting is a notoriously difficult task, however, and the McKinsey researchers are quick to remind us of the basic “unknowability” of it all.

External factors are impossible to predict or control. But no matter what the job market does, the best preparation starts at home. Economies are constantly growing and changing, and the most successful people are those who can adapt and grow alongside the changes. There are examples of agriculturally-driven economies across the globe that have morphed in just such a manner. In Australia, agricultural employment makes up only 3% of our current workforce, down from 8% in 1970. But we’ve adapted famously, and new jobs have been created over time. The technology boom of the 90s-00s played a big role in those new jobs. In fact, the emergence of the Internet has been said to be responsible for well over 1 million jobs.

Adapting is vital for society, but it begins on an individual level, and it begins at home.

Kids can learn even from a very young age how to be adaptable. There are skills and tendencies to support this quality, too. Want your children to thrive in a changing workforce? Consider these approaches:

  • Promote curiosity

Being resistant to new ideas can be a detriment. Fortunately, children are typically born with an innate sense of curiosity. The phrase “childlike wonder” describes it perfectly. Kids love to touch, see, and experience. Everything is fascinating to the young child. Some are naturally more intrepid than others (and perhaps more prone to getting into trouble!) but nearly all kids enter the world thirsty for discovery. Support that tendency from the start, and you’ll be equipping your children to be ready for a uniquely transforming workforce.

For younger children, fostering curiosity can include encouraging creative play and hands-on activity. For older kids and teenagers, you can coax them to ask questions and think critically.

  • Encourage a love of knowledge and discovery

A simple way to help your children become lovers of learning is to be a lover of learning yourself. The world is fascinating; show your kids (of all ages) that you are inspired and intrigued by the world around you. This will have an influence on their own developing minds, and help them to embrace the pursuit of knowledge.

For future workers, this is essential, because keeping pace with rapid changes may bring with it a need to have an open mind and acquire new skills.

  • Teach your children to be adaptable, flexible, and fast learners

Learning is important, and in a competitive marketplace, learning fast can be an enormous asset. Give your children ways to exercise their brain as often as possible, and teach them how to best interact with the world around them. Being flexible and adaptable will help them later on, so equip good communication skills and the resilience to keep moving forward as the world around them continues to change. If kids can learn how to cope with change and transitions in their early years, they will be in a great place for dealing with massive changes, such as those of a shifting job market. Indeed, for all of life’s major ups and downs, having the ability to adapt will be of genuine benefit.

  • Raise good people

Even as automation reduces the need for certain hard skills, other attributes will become more sought after. This refers largely to “soft skills,” those qualities that are more humanised, including communication, resilience, and teamwork. Simply put, teach your children to be the best people they can be, so that these soft skills are a natural part of who they become.

  • Instill a sense of autonomy

No matter how things are faring in the world of work, those who carry confidence inside them nearly always have a leg up. Every parent wants their child to be confident and have a strong level of self-esteem. This will influence every area of their lives, and will certainly assist them when pursuing a career.

There are a lot of ways to build confidence. Mastering a new skill. Conquering a fear. Or doing something “on one’s own.” Having a notion of their own autonomy can be extremely powerful for kids. This lets them know that they are an independent and unique person and that their goals, wishes, and desires are valid and valued. Perhaps most of all, autonomy lets them know that they are in control of their future. When changes are occurring, those with a firm foundation in their own autonomy can hang on, knowing they are anchored. Without a sense of this autonomous nature, an individual can feel subject to the whims of fate; controlled by external circumstances. Help your kids know they are the masters of their own destinies. (Here are 7 ways to encourage autonomy in your offspring).

  • Suggest entrepreneurship

Speaking of autonomy, the future may present lots of chances for children to exercise this autonomy. In fact, in the workplaces of 2030 or later, they may find that this characteristic allows them to create their own opportunities. Even today, hundred and thousands of professionals are designing their own jobs and building their own businesses. The expansion of the Internet and related technology has opened up the world to exactly this type of work. More people work online today than ever before and for those who capitalise on the latest opportunities, the possibilities seem endless.

Why not instil in your children and teenagers an entrepreneurial spirit? This could enable them--despite fluctuation in the job market--to spearhead their own companies, inventions, or ideas. There’s plenty of room for these budding entrepreneurs in the future to come.

Inspire curiosity in your children, and a desire to learn and discover.

By guiding your children towards these positive, effectual attributes, you’ll be laying the groundwork for them to become excellent workers---no matter what career they pursue.

A Path to Following Dreams

One way that automation and AI can be viewed as an advantage to the job market is that it may actually empower and enable kids to truly follow their dreams. Though automation may replace thousands of jobs, these are more likely (at least in the near future) to be menial jobs, those in which people often feel unfulfilled and uninspired. With these positions filled by machines, this could potentially mean that more people have the opportunity to chase a career that excites them or creatively satisfied them.

We all want our children to follow their dreams. This message typically surrounds the modern child, even from their earliest school days. This is a beautiful message, but it may need some slight adjustments.

While it may seem simple to tell your kids to go after their dreams, here are some things parents should keep in mind:

  • Balance dreams with practicality

It is undeniable that the world of work is changing, so it’s important to be realistic and practical. You can still motivate your child to want big things for their future, but at the same time, approach it in a practical manner. Show them that big dreams require very hard work and that the path to success is almost never a straight line. Introduce them to the realities of pursuing career goals. Have ongoing, straightforward conversations with them about what it will take for them to achieve what they desire. And also, help them to see that there are many, many options for careers they may not have even considered. Be honest about the changing nature of work and brainstorm ideas together of how they might make the best of those changes. This is a smart way to propel your kids into meaningful careers.

  • Let them know you encourage them to explore new avenues and industries

Just as you assisted your child to develop a sense of wonder and discovery, as they grow, give them a push to try new things---especially as they relate to potential careers. Provide them with opportunities to gain new skills or be immersed in something totally different. This might be an unusual class at school, a summer camp experience, or an unlikely internship. The more they are exposed to variety and diversity, the better adapted they will be to a transforming job market.

As a parent, you actually might have to do some internal work, too, to let go of any preconceived notions you may have surrounding your child’s future. (There are now thousands of roles beyond the traditional doctor and lawyer). Welcome the unfamiliar with open arms, as it may hold incredible promise for your kids.

  • Stay up-to-date on blossoming industries and new technologies

Being informed about current technological movements will prove invaluable for you and your child. It’s a good idea to stay up-to-date on these things and let them influence you as necessary. For instance, if countless trusted sources are insisting that the healthcare industry will be booming in 10 years, you might consider chatting with your child about that possibility---especially if they’re nearing the end of their schooling. With automation on the rise, young people may be positioned to be employed in relevant roles. In that case, it’s never too early to take an interest in AI! Following the trends and moving with them keeps future workers positioned for a strong career path. 

Even automation needs intelligent management. 

New Ways of Learning, New Things to Learn

There’s plenty to be done at home to help your child thrive in the future workforce, but their formal education can play a role as well. Expert opinion holds that the more technologically-wired classrooms of today are already helping our children prepare for the workforce. Teachers all over the world are incorporating technology more and more (this classroom is said to be virtually “paperless”) and there’s no doubt that this early familiarity with the world of tech puts kids at a great advantage.

If your child is learning advanced computer skills in school, great. If not, you can supplement their education at home. In addition to those soft skills you’ll be instilling, there is a realm “hard skills” that may come in handy in the future.

Though we can only predict what skills will be most in-demand several years from now, we can look at those which are currently most sought-after by employers.

According to LinkedIn research, the 10 most in-demand skills of 2018 are all technology-focused. The list includes items such as Network and Information Security, Statistical Analysis and Data Mining, and SEO/SEM Marketing.

While your children probably aren’t ready to start learning these just yet (although coding classes may soon be part of your kids’ curriculum), even a basic familiarity of these concepts could prove beneficial. It’s also important to note that technical skills do not automatically translate to solely technical jobs. These skills can be used across the spectrum of industries.

Luckily, young people are shown time and again to be extremely proficient with technology. And those hours spent playing computer games or interacting on social media could actually help your kids develop skills they can parlay into a future career.

Evolving Jobs in Australia

As your children approach adulthood, you can keep an eye on burgeoning fields and thriving industries. Looking at today’s top jobs in Australia is actually quite refreshing. Clearly, technological savvy is at play, with positions like Digital Marketing Analyst, Cyber Security and DevOps specialist, and Programmer making the list. But on the whole, the majority of careers included are those which are not 100% “techy.” This is a nice reminder that, while it is essential to develop one’s technological skills for the careers of tomorrow, that isn’t the only part of the puzzle.

Don’t forget the bigger picture. The soft skills that your kids will learn will help them just as much, if not more, when it comes to getting hired. As a matter of fact, 77% of hiring managers say that soft skills are just as important; 16% rank soft skills as being of greater importance.

And a significant number of jobs, including many on the list, are jobs which definitely demand serious soft skills. These jobs have a human element, that, despite the wonder of AI, the robots have not, and likely will not, master. This can help us all breathe a sigh of relief when it comes to the future job market. Careers such as Early Childhood Teacher, Social Worker, and Customer Engagement Manager are in demand in 2018, and will probably continue to be in the years to come. These are the types jobs which need the nuance of personal contact and cannot be replaced by bots. Artificial intelligence and automation may replace administrative tasks and repetitive work, but some things will always require real-life humans to get the job done best.

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