JENI O’DOWD: The jobs phenomenon that may require a rethink on schooling for this generation

Jeni O’Dowd
The Nightly
The choices young people face today vastly differ from those of previous generations.
The choices young people face today vastly differ from those of previous generations. Credit: Gorodenkoff Productions OU/stock.adobe.com

I always dreamed of a career in journalism, despite one teacher calling it a bad idea and others claiming the industry was too hard to break into.

But I persevered, writing to every newspaper, TV, and radio station in my then-home State of South Australia until I finally secured a cadetship at a small country newspaper. That was the beginning of my journey, which I still travel today.

Now, as my daughters and their friends prepare to enter the workforce, experts predict they will have 18 jobs across six different careers during their working lives.

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Over the past 30 years, the job market has transformed dramatically, driven by the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) and technology. The choices young people face today vastly differ from those of previous generations.

School leavers are now told to consider jobs that AI cannot replace, such as social media influencers, guide dog trainers, and tourism operators, as well as more traditional careers.

According to the recent World Economic Forum’s 2024 Future of Jobs report, a staggering 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist.

Jeni O’Dowd.
Jeni O’Dowd. Credit: Supplied/TheWest

This highlights the need to future-proof careers and ensure that young people are prepared for a constantly evolving job market.

But it’s not just about preparing for new types of jobs. The way we approach careers has also fundamentally changed. Gone are the days when someone could expect to stay in one job, or even one career, for their entire working life like I did.

According to top Australian demographer Mark McCrindle, the average school leaver today is expected to have 18 different jobs across six separate careers in his or her lifetime. Shorter job tenures and ongoing retraining and upskilling will drive this constant change.

He says the evolution of AI and broader technology is shaping Generation Z’s jobs.

If you look back 13 years, when today’s school leavers were just starting school, jobs for data scientists were gaining traction, and the idea of driverless trains we now see in Sydney’s Metro or advanced robotics technicians seemed like futuristic fantasies. Now, these roles are real and becoming integral parts of our economy.

There are now many “green jobs”, such as wind blade technicians and solar farm installers, and TAFE is running courses in those areas to respond to changing energy needs.

“The trend of young people studying for a career that doesn’t yet exist is a phenomenon,” Mr McCrindle, founder and principal of social research firm McCrindle Research, says.

In this new landscape, the skills that can’t be replaced by AI — like creativity, emotional intelligence, and complex problem-solving — are more valuable than ever.

Mr McCrindle says that as technology takes over more repetitive tasks, jobs that require human insight and interaction will become increasingly important, creating a “knowledge economy.”

Looking back, the most popular jobs for Baby Boomers were in the manufacturing and construction industries, which were then cornerstones of Australia’s economy. Generation X gravitated more towards information technology and financial services, with careers in media also becoming popular.

Millennials’ top jobs reflected the country’s technological advances, with roles such as software developers, IT specialists, creative professionals, digital marketing and social media managers gaining popularity.

And now, Generation Z is growing up in a highly digital and connected world, coupled with the incredible growth of AI none of us could have imagined.

The Government’s recent Future Made In Australia program recognised this shift in demand for future jobs. It’s developing a clean energy workforce with funded science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs to increase diversity in STEM education and industries.

But with our children expected to work 18 different jobs in their lifetimes, will this be enough? Do we need to rethink the school curriculum and make it broader with more scope for different jobs?

Four decades ago, the average retirement age was 56. Today, it’s almost 65, and Mr McCrindle says today’s school leaders will probably end up working into their 70s.

This shift is partly due to increased life expectancy and the need to fund longer retirements, but it’s also because work has become more flexible. With options like part-time work and remote working, it’s easier for older workers to stay in the workforce.

“When today’s school leavers are in their 60s, they will be very valuable in a knowledge economy with many skills and experience,” Mr McCrindle says.

“In the future, the most valuable skills will be those distinctly human ones. Anything that can be replaced by technology or AI will be replaced. Still, the areas that can’t be replaced are those with strong human interaction such as customer service, carer roles, teaching, nursing and the innovative, creative thinking roles.”

So, the message for those entering the workforce today is clear: be adaptable, keep learning, and focus on developing those uniquely human skills.

The future of work is full of opportunities for those ready to embrace change and stay ahead of the curve.

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