I was asked to do a speech last week, with a slightly unusual brief. The subject – an overview of the careers environment we can expect in 2025 – isn’t such a surprising topic – though it involved a fair bit of interesting research which included getting information from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills; the eyebrow raiser was the audience of nine- to thirteen-year-olds at Chesham Preparatory School.
The way you deal with an unusual audience isn’t to change the facts – just the way you present them. That said, as the finishing touches were being put to the PowerPoint presentation, nice clear graphs, powerful images and all, we did reflect that plenty of slides intended for adult audiences would benefit from the designer seeing them through the eyes of an eleven-year-old.
Children live in as fast-paced a world as we do as grown-ups, though hopefully, they don’t put quite so much effort into paying the bills. They have grown up in a world where the exponential growth and mobility computing power is something they take as much for granted as we do jumping in a car (which was equally as unthinkable a couple of generations back).
Technology is a clear growth area in the jobs market, and the jobs are going to go to people for whom working with tech is second nature: all those youngsters who are creating apps in their bedrooms are going to have the skills needed, as technology becomes ever more intuitive and invisible. Technology will play an increasingly important role in all careers, whether this is the construction worker receiving plans through a tablet or a teacher giving a lesson to a student on the other side of the planet. Industries that don’t use technology now will come to see it as a central component of the business over the coming decade.
In terms of languages, European languages are still likely to be useful, particularly Spanish and Portuguese with the rapid growth of the South American economies. Some parents have already been hot housing their children in Mandarin and Cantonese, but a recent edition of the Sunday Times seemed to be reading our minds when they put out a supplement that said the essential second language of the future was going to be computer coding. When Computer Weekly magazine agrees that ‘coding is the literacy of today,’ they are really acknowledging the ubiquity of computers in the world, and if you can’t talk code, your communication options will eventually become severely limited.
Renewables are another obvious area for growth. With the jury still out and grumbling over fracking – however safe it’s supposed to be – energy is going to be created closer to the point of delivery. We could fill pages on solar panel technology, but to get a feel for the direction the world is going in, look out of any train window as you go through the town and look at all the photovoltaics on the rooftops. Energy generation is getting domestic. The local window cleaner has bought a ladder extension, and is now offering to squeegee your panels for an extra fiver, which just shows how the trend has impacted on scientists in labs at one end of the scale and sole traders at the other.
If all this technology feels like a sure step towards the future as shown in Blade Runner, take comfort: the human touch is very much required for plenty of careers, especially construction, nursing, education, transport, agriculture and others. A quick word on dairy farmers, who have made the news recently with supermarkets using milk as a loss leader. The situation where farmers are being paid less for a product than it costs to produce it is clearly unsustainable, and if the supermarkets want to look beyond their next quarter results they will have to do something about it. Our bold prediction for the future is that supermarkets will become recognised by the consumer as part of the farming process, legislation will get tighter at the consumer end, and the whole business of food production and delivery will become more transparent and collaborative. Watch this space for developments (by the time it comes around, this blog will be beamed directly onto your retina).
A major factor in the future jobs market that is of particular relevance to young people and their parents is a shift in our attitudes towards learning. The introduction of tuition fees has forced young people to reevaluate their choices: when it was free, university was a natural next step if you were academically bright enough. Now it costs thousands of pounds and takes three (fast moving) years out of your life, it looks less attractive: is it worth it? Looking at all the options – learning on the job, apprenticeships, internships and starting your own business – the answer is now not so clear-cut. One trend that is likely to emerge is that there will be more short-term courses that focus on a particular business sector or interest. Individuals will need to take even greater responsibility for acquiring and updating their skills. And updating is the key word here: how relevant will the degree you took at 21 be when you’re applying for a job at 65?
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. What will the working world look like in 2025 and beyond?
It will still be the case that humans will prefer to be managed by other humans: the computer may, infuriatingly, say ‘no’, but with the boom in consumer comments going online, small businesses will be aware that their reputation can be severely damaged by a bad review on whatever their industry equivalent of trip advisor is. Only a human being can look another in the eyes, say ‘sorry’ and mean it.
If knowledge is outsourced to hard drives, what are the skills that the workers of the future have to focus on? We’d argue that it has to be about human interaction. A computer only works as hard as it is built for. Human beings can be motivated or discouraged. Leadership and team working will become every more important, and the creative industries will need fresh ideas to fuel a demand for content.
Suddenly 2025, when our audience of nine- to thirteen-year-olds will be in the world of work, doesn’t feel very far away.
You could be forgiven for thinking it is already 2025 when you walk through the sleek, modern atrium of King’s Place, where PS Programmes delivered presentation skills coaching for the Green & Fortune team this week. The book launch for Insider Secrets of Public Speaking was held in the beautiful Battlebridge Room at the venue, so we were delighted to be back there particularly as its such a light and airy space, and perfect location to put ten of their team through their presenting paces. Public speaking is all about humans communicating with each other, and we found out about how the Rotunda restaurant sourced all their meat from their own farm in Northumberland. It might seem old fashioned to know the name of everyone involved in the process of serving a steak, from the waiter who brings it to the table all the way back to the farmer the farmer, but it felt like this might be the direction the restaurant trade is heading: people care about welfare, quality and service, and people can provide all of this in a way that a robot can’t.
We were also impressed by the Operations Manager who told us that the company employs some 100 people, and that she knew them all by name. No doubt their spreadsheet stores the information even more efficiently, but that is a lot less impressive than somebody having it in their head. We left after the session thinking of the youngsters considering their careers in 2025 and thought: management will doubtless undergo fads and revolutions in the next decade, but being good with people – and communicating your message – is always going to be an invaluable skill.