The future of work is changing. Are we ready?

With profound and irreversible changes on the horizon for the post-pandemic world of work, how can help young generations prepare for what’s ahead?

Kevin Frey
Picture of Kevin Frey Hi-fiving a young girl in a classroom
Generation Unlimited
13 June 2021

The future of work is a complex topic to speak about because it’s changing so quickly.

You may have heard the world we are living in described as VUCA –  volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

I think that’s a powerful articulation of our currently reality – particularly post-COVID.

New technologies and the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the labor market have fundamentally transformed how we conduct business and the type of skills needed in the workforce. According to the World Economic Forum, nearly 50% of companies expect that by next year, automation will lead to a reduction in their full-time workforce, while more than half of all employees will require significant re-skilling and upskilling.

And career progression is no longer linear. The average person currently changes careers 5 to 7 times during their working life and according to LinkedIn, as a young worker you are likely to change jobs 4 times in your first 10 years after graduation.

The nature of work has fundamentally changed as well. McKinsey is predicting that by the end of 2021– gig jobs will actually outnumber traditional nine-to-five, office-based jobs. And by 2027, up to 60% of the workforce will consist of freelance professionals.

With these profound and irreversible changes on the horizon, we have to take action.

We need to invest in large-scale, job-relevant skilling and reform our education systems to ensure young people are learning the skills they will need to thrive. We are living through a fundamental transformation in the way we work. Automation and artificial intelligence are replacing human tasks and jobs and changing the skills that organizations are seeking from their employees.

And the pace of change is accelerating too. Competition for the right talent and the top talent is fierce. And ‘talent’ is defined by a totally different skill set than it was 10 years ago. Many of the roles, skills and job titles of tomorrow are unknown to us today.

So, how can organizations prepare for a future that few of us can define? How will talent needs change? How can young generations prepare for what’s ahead? This isn’t a time to sit back and wait for events to unfold.

To be prepared for the future of work, we have to anticipate it and then prepare for it.

On the plus side, the pandemic has accelerated trends that have been a long time coming including the :

- digitization of workplaces

- emergence of the platform economy,

- expansion of remote and flexible work options,

- and online education.

There are extraordinary opportunities in digital skill-building, and global platforms are emerging, offering young people around the globe access to world-class learning, but these opportunities are not evenly distributed. Some 29 percent of 18-24-year-olds (360 million of them) currently lack digital access. We still have so much work to do to bridge the digital divide and ensure that every young person is connected to the internet.

    Two young boys  (Calvin shown in the left hand sight) in GenU T-shirts posing for a picture in an informal settlement in Kenya
    Generation Unlimited
    Green Project Initiative co-founders Calvin Shikuku (left) together with his friend Edwin Odhiambo (right) while standing atop a roof in the informal settlement if Mathare, Kenya
    picture of a young girl working in an aoffice

    Need for Re-skilling and Up-skilling

    But there’s good news; there are lots of smart people and organizations researching what the future of work will look like. And they predict that the future of work will demand a broad variety of skills.

    According to the World Economic Forum, the top skills for 2025 are:

    • critical thinking,
    • analytical thinking,
    • innovation,
    • problem-solving,
    • creativity,
    • leadership,
    • resilience,
    • emotional intelligence,
    • and digital literacy.

    Not surprisingly, the list is full of deeply human capabilities which are not easily replaceable by an algorithm or a machine. And they are all skills that every one of us can learn.

    That’s why I believe the future is full of opportunities for young people. There are so many skills that are uniquely human. And those are the skills that we need to cultivate.

    But the reality is that many education systems are not cultivating these skills. There is a fundamental mismatch between the skills young people are learning, and the skills the future demands. We need to close that skills mismatch, and that means attacking multiple issues at multiple levels at the same time, including:

    • Delivering universal access to connectivity and devices to all young people,
    • Developing globally recognized skills-based credentials and certifications,
    • Offering self-paced and immersive digital learning opportunities.
    • Encouraging immersive, hands-on learning.
    •  And there are many pathways to these outcomes, including:
      • from formal education,
      • to private-sector sponsored skills-based training,
      • to internships,
      • to apprenticeships etc.

    Need for Partnerships

    So, where do we go from here? We need to act now. This isn’t about a ‘distant future’ of work – transformation is happening and it’s accelerating. I believe we need to focus on people - not jobs.

    We can’t keep jobs from being made redundant by automation – but we can help young people prepare for the jobs of the future. We need to nurture resilience, adaptability and a passion for lifelong (up) and (re)skilling. But there are no easy answers. The global scale and complexity of challenges faced by young people means that no single government, organization, foundation, or business can address them on their own.

    We have to work together, across public and private sector boundaries - despite the fact that incentives are often misaligned - and join forces with young people and civil society to transform the systems that hold young people back from reaching their full potential.

    At Generation Unlimited, we’re on a mission to do just that and enable all young people – wherever they live – to realize their full potential by skilling and connecting the world’s 1.8 billion young people to opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship, and social impact.

    Generation Unlimited is a Public-Private-Youth-Partnership platform currently operating in 47 countries across 7 regions that rallies major private-sector corporations, governments, Heads of State, CEOs, civil society organizations, UN agencies, multilateral development banks and young people themselves.

    I’m proud to say that together – in partnership with our public, private and youth partners - we’ve co-created globally scalable programs to empower young people. For example:

    These are just a few examples, but one thing is consistent: in every partnership we build at Generation Unlimited, we bring the public and private sector together as partners to prepare young people for the future of work.

    GenU is a partnership that is powered by young people, because young people understand the challenges they face and the future they want to create. Keeping young people at the center of everything that GenU does has been a critical driver of GenU’s impact.

    I believe deeply in GenU’s strategic vision - as a catalyzer of public-private-youth partnerships around young people. And I call on public and private sector leaders to join forces with young people to accelerate action and sustain investment so we can jointly deliver transformative impact - on a global scale.

    Close collaboration between young people, education innovators, policy-makers, and businesses - with a focus on skills as the core currency of the labor market - will deliver a positive impact for business, for youth, for communities, and for nations.

    We need to increase the urgency and enhance the speed of reform! 

    And – most importantly – we need to keep young people at the center of it all!

    After all, and to put it in GenU terms:

    • It’s your time,
    • it’s your turn,
    • it’s your future!