For those of us old enough to remember Tomorrow’s World (that includes most of the Chrysalis Research staff), the BBC show used to thrill us with glimpses of the future that barely seemed possible at the time. It was on Tomorrow’s World that I first saw a rather large portable telephone and something called a compact disc. ‘Whether there’s a market for this kind of disc remains to be seen,’ the presenter said.

Technology now moves so fast that yesterday’s flight of fancy could easily become tomorrow’s reality. As for next year, nobody knows. Robotics, artificial intelligence, bio-technology and genomics are spawning whole new industries. In fact, the World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of children now entering primary school will end up working in jobs that haven’t yet been conceived.

So where does this rapid pace of change leave the workforce of the future? How can students ensure they have the right skills when the skills needed by industry are changing all the time? And how can careers staff help support this journey into the unknown?

Maggie Philbin of Tomorrow’s World fame and now CEO of Teen Tech was among the speakers grappling with just such issues at a recent careers advice and guidance event held by the Westminster Employment Forum.

The event was held in response to a Parliamentary Inquiry that criticised current careers provision as patchy, inadequate and confusing. The Inquiry called for more clarity and better labour market data and stressed the importance of work experience to help young people gain a realistic insight into the workplace.

One of the key messages I took away from the event was how young people’s aspirations can be out of sync with projected labour market need and careers guidance does not do enough to address this. This has huge implications not just for the market but for young people’s life chances: students with less realistic aspirations are more likely to spend time not in employment and training (NEET) as an older teen.

This mismatch between young people’s ambition and market need is likely to become even more pronounced under Brexit. As highlighted by Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw this week, it’s clear that any distancing of the UK from Europe will reveal skills shortages that are currently masked by importing labour and sourcing goods and services from Europe. Wilshaw has called for a massive expansion of vocational education to plug these skills gaps.

Amidst all these changes, the great opportunity for anyone involved with educating young people – whether a school, college, careers adviser or a corporation – is to focus on the skills needed to cope with uncertainty. Skills such as imagination, creativity and resilience will help the workforce of the future adapt to changing demands and be ready to perform the jobs that even Maggie Philbin can’t predict.


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