How do we Prepare our Children for a Future that doesn’t yet Exist?
Superman’s parents (Supermum and Superdad, of course) had quite a conundrum on their hands just after their firstborn arrived. Their beloved planet Krypton was kaput and minutes away from destruction, along with their way of life. But, alas, one tiny glimmer of hope for the survival of their race remained, their tiny Kal-El. They snuggled their new born babe into a nifty life support capsule and set his path for earth. They didn’t have 18 years to nurture and prepare him for the trials of the future. To develop his talents, hone his maths, science and X-ray vision and show him how to be a good human being. Instead they launched him off and hoped with all hope that he would land in a field, on a farm in a developed country where an elderly, kind and childless couple would discover him and raise him to be a caring earth citizen and indestructible superhero. But what if he had landed in Afghanistan, Siberia, the Congo? He would have needed a whole different set of skills to navigate his way to superhero status and global stardom. We have more time with our children. To be co-travellers, guides and protectors on their journey of discovery. To deliver them to their destination. But where is that exactly? What co-ordinates do we punch in to take them 30 years forward?
It’s no secret that we are preparing our dimpled darlings for jobs that don’t yet exist. By their very nature we cannot yet conceive of these unknowable jobs of the future, just as our parents could not have imagined us becoming a bitcoin trader at a hedge fund on Wall Street. (If you haven’t had a teenager explain bitcoin mining to you yet, I highly recommend it. It’ll stretch your mind and make you feel ancient all at the same time.)
We may not know what the future looks like but we do have a pretty good idea of the mega trends that will shape our children’s environment along the way. A megatrend is an existing trend that has already gained so much momentum that its trajectory is likely to continue under most reasonable future scenarios. These trends give us a framework for hanging potential futures on. They’re not perfect but certainly more reliable than history, given the rate of disruptive change in most sectors today. They allow us to model a range of outcomes and their implications for the skills that will be most in demand when our children get there.
Trend 1: Me today, Me Tomorrow
The first megatrend is that of individual empowerment strengthening as the middle class bulges around the globe. Surprised? No, of course not. It all started anecdotally in the kitchens of late 1960’s homes with the advent of the magic microwave. And you were thinking it was the Sony Walkman that sparked the cult of me. With the microwave, reheating a plate of food became so easy that even Dad could do it. Family members could now eat at different times. So the kids could eat earlier and mom and/or dad later. As the kids grew up they could eat at any time they wanted. Bam! Microwave dinners followed and the sit down-around-the-table evening family meal died in many homes. Move this into the now and we know that if we can’t agree on what cable channel to watch while we eat, it doesn’t matter because we can watch or read, play, shop or do exactly what we want to on any number of personal devices. So where is it all going?
As the middle class expands globally so do average levels of education, health and disposable income. An ever greater deal of this disposable income is directed towards gadgets and technology that simplify our lives, or simply make them less dreary. This is encouraged by the plunging cost of data storage and processing power which is close to free in many countries. A major beneficiary of this is social media. A rapidly maturing industry providing much needed alternatives to brick and mortar blue collar jobs that will form an ever larger part of the employment landscape in 2030. On the flip side, networking, social media and cloud services open up a whole new paradigm of requirements as e-citizens start thinking very seriously about the protection of their identities, data and electronic assets. Not to mention the proliferation of government surveillance, attracting many a raised eyebrow and public commentary. So it’s not hard to envision a future where cybersecurity and digital asset management attracts our best and brightest thinkers. New technologies will continue to proliferate. Necessitating new ethical and legal frameworks plus protection from the threats that they usher in. Traditionally governments and military research and development departments whisked away the most promising talents in these areas. But the likes of Google and Intel are already more attractive employers as nationalist tendencies loosen their grip on a much more globally mobile generation. There may even be a backlash against big data and the big governments that gather it. This opens up all sorts of niches for entrepreneurs looking to profit from disproval of big brother securing its technological edge.
Currently a very well funded edge. US government grants for research and development have grown from USD13.46bn in 1953 to USD133.48bn in 2014 (in constant FY2013 dollars). Of the 2014 allocation USD70.24bn was earmarked for defence (including cyber defence) research and development. As a comparison Microsoft spent close to USD10.4bn in 2013 and Apple a mere USD4.5bn according to their financials. Going forward cyber security will continue to attract larger and larger chunks of funding and may even be more exciting than practicing as a laser-wielding dentist - but that remains to be seen.
Next time we’ll continue to look at the world we will be jettisoning our little darlings into over the next 30 years. Three more megatrends and how employers are hiring for the future, today.