We need to do more to prepare for the ‘New Work Order’

October 22, 2015

We are currently in the midst of the most significant disruption to the world of work since the industrial revolution.

Right now as a nation we are failing to provide generations of young people with the skills and capability to thrive in the New Work Order. This is a national tragedy – and one that threatens Australia’s future economic and social prosperity.

At the Foundation for Young Australians, we want to start a conversation about how we turn these risks into opportunities.

FYA recently released a new report Young People and the New Work Order. It paints a clear picture of the key economic drivers which are transforming the world of work: automation, globalisation and more collaborative, flexible work arrangements.

Ever smarter machines are performing human tasks, our workforce is becoming more global and fewer people are doing work in a traditional office environment with one employer. Just ten years from now the working life of a 15 year old will likely include a “portfolio” of jobs including self-employment, engagement in the collaborative economy and other individual employers – often at the same time.

For young people in particular, these changes will have a huge impact. Nearly 60% of Australian students (70% in VET) are currently studying or training for occupations where the vast majority of jobs will be radically affected by automation. Many of the jobs they are studying for could vanish in 10-15 years’ time. In short, the robots really are coming and we need to get ready to work with them.

In five years’ time, over 50% of jobs will require significant digital skills and yet our young people are not learning these in schools. Our children may be able to operate a smart-phone with ease, but what they need is to learn how to build it.

This news comes at a time when young people are already facing great uncertainty with around 30% either underemployed or unemployed. They are a generation more in debt and unable to access home ownership than their parents.

As alarming as this all sounds, this story doesn’t need to end badly. We expect there will be many new opportunities in the future world of work. What we are not doing is shoring up Australia’s future by investing in the next generation and backing them to create the kind of world they want to live in.

Central to this will be equipping young people to become job builders and creators, not just job seekers. That is why FYA is calling for a national enterprise education strategy.

Young people need to be equipped with a set of skills that are transferable across different jobs. Skills like financial literacy, digital literacy, collaboration, project management and the ability to critically assess and analyse information, be creative and innovative.

Australian students need an enterprise education that begins early in primary school and builds consistently throughout high school. It also needs to be provided in ways that young people want to learn: through experience, immersion and with peers.

It is essential we provide young people, their teachers and parents, with accurate information about where future jobs will exist and the skills to craft and navigate multiple careers. Beyond this we need to engage students, schools, industry and parents in co-designing opportunities in and outside the classroom.

Programs like FYA’s $20 Boss high school entrepreneurship program supported by NAB, our Adappt app-building bootcamp co-designed with Samsung and our work to back young social entrepreneurs, demonstrate the value of enterprise learning. They also show how these skills can be delivered in ways young people will engage with.

We need to take the learnings from these demonstrations and build a nation-wide strategy for embedding this approach to learning and skills into our education system.

If we’re serious about equipping our young people for the best future possible, we need to invest in our young people now.

Our policy choices today will determine whether young people are ready to take on the challenges of the future. Ultimately these are challenges for our nation, not just young people. We must act now to ensure young Australians can thrive in the New Work Order.

Jan Owen AM is the CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians www.fya.org.au  

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