“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

From a family gathering to a parent-teacher meeting, it was the question many of us grew up constantly being asked. And yet now it’s the unanswerable question. According to the World Economic Forum, 65 percent of children in elementary school today will grow up to build careers that don’t yet exist.

Social media manager. IOS developer. Big data architect. Cloud service specialist. Data scientist. Just five years ago, these jobs didn’t exist. And new ones like them are popping up all the time. Twenty years from now, those jobs might also be gone. Instead your child might be a drone manager, a chief productivity officer, an autonomous transportation specialist, an end-of-life coach – or hundreds of careers we can’t even manage yet.


A changing job economy requires change in how we approach our children’s education.


While it’s true that a large proportion of these emerging careers are computer and math related (in fact, since 1970, that sector has boomed at a whopping 544%), it’s not just competence in those areas that students need. Thanks to the rapid pace of technological innovation, the future economy is not only different, it’s unpredictable, and that requires an additional skillset. 


Fortunately, there are ways to ensure your kids are prepared for a more tech-filled future, even though we don’t know exactly what careers lie ahead.


Imagine your child is a future scientist. She spends her doctoral research studying microbes under a microscope, recording what she finds and sifting through the data for key findings. Then, around the time she launches her career, a new technology comes out that makes the physical studying of the microbes, in addition to the data analysis, entirely automated. She’ll need to work with others to dream up big ideas that the technology she’s using might support – and a new job description for herself.


The Key Skills of the Future: Adaptability & Problem-Solving


“The foundational knowledge of the future is your own ability to learn and adapt, because if you don’t your career will come to a screeching halt after a couple of years,” says Heather McGowan, a future work strategist who helps to prepare people and organizations for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will see the world reshaped by artificial intelligence, robotics and other technological breakthroughs. Education must adapt accordingly. McGowan thinks this means less focus on transferring knowledge, and more on the ability to learn for yourself.

When executives from some of the world’s leading companies were asked what they thought the most important job skills would be in the future, they focused on adaptability – the ability “learn how to learn” and “think creatively”. Despite students facing that rapid change, elementary and high school still haven’t changed much since the Industrial Revolution, when the future most kids were faced with was working on an assembly line. Education often forces children to memorize facts and processes instead of being given the opportunity to develop and create those processes themselves, the way they’ll need to when unexpected challenges come their way. 

That dynamism will also need to be in place relationally. With automation taking some of the more process-oriented tasks, “softer” skills, such as resilience, curiosity, communication and empathy, will be in high demand in the future, says Katrin Becker, a business psychologist with Hatch Analytics, a company based in London, that uses behavioural science to improve workplaces. Even the traditional workplace is likely to change. Thomas Frey, a futurist and founder of the DaVinci Institute, a Colorado-based consulting firm, says work will almost certainly be more freelance- and entrepreneurial-based, with people having two or three jobs instead of just one.


So what does that mean for you? How do you prepare your child for an unpredictable job market?


First, if anything, the future for our children should be incredibly exciting. With machines doing more and more of the tedious work, humans will increasingly be able to use their creativity and thinking skills to tackle bigger and more meaningful issues in the same amount of time. But how do you prepare them well for that future?


1. Make sure your child knows how they best learn

This is the skeleton key that can unlock countless doors. When students understand how their brain works, they have the ability to improve and change the way they take in and synthesize information. For instance, when students review their class notes a day or two after writing them, that action stimulates new growth of neural networks in the brain, which makes the information in those class notes easier to remember later. 


2. Make sure they receive regular problem-solving opportunities that require creativity and resilience

Usually, we show a student how to do a problem. Then we ask them to do the same. “I do. We do. You do.” But real-life problems don’t usually present themselves in that packaging. Especially given the explosion of technology-related careers, Aspire will begin offering tutoring in coding this semester. Coding is terrific practice for this type of problem-solving. But math and science can also be – if students are being challenged to solve harder and harder problems. If you’re interested, be sure to sign up for tutoring at the link below.


3. Provide opportunities collaboration and tolerance

We may not have a crystal ball that shows a detailed image of the future, but we do know that workers of the future will interact with people from many cultures and backgrounds—and that jobs will require the ability to find common ground with colleagues in order to achieve shared goals. Today’s students will be successful in their future work if they are able to collaborate with others to figure out creative solutions to new problems, including problems we haven’t yet imagined.

Gone are the days where we can get a clear, entirely accurate answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” because the majority of children’s future options don’t exist yet. But there are important was to apply and develop learning skills that will help your child to build confidence to be good at life no matter what the future holds.


Warmly,
Drew Sokol, Executive Director