Banned: “Preparing young people for jobs that don’t yet exist”

Taking a lead from the recent AGCAS Phoenix magazine with the theme “Careers concepts which should be banned” (and by that I mean stealing the idea) I would like to put forward a concept, or more specifically a phrase, that I contend should be forever banned from a politician’s vocabulary when speaking about careers work in Secondary schools…

……unless, that is,  they actually start using it in the way it should be used.

The “jobs that don’t yet exist” phrase is usually deployed by politicians in their speeches when they attempt to confront the numerous issues identified by the numerous reports regarding the state of school age Careers work and to show they can understand the bigger picture. It conjures forth job titles from the space age such as Hydrogen Station Manager and Avatar security consultant that hold the promise of exciting new careers awaiting (somehow) prepared youngsters. A phrase that is designed to highlight their keen economic mind and but, in reality, ends up saying absolutely nothing.

A recent example appeared in Tristram Hunt’s speech at a Policy Exchange event but Micheal Gove has also been happy to jump on the “future jobs” bandwagon.

How can we prepare young people for jobs that don’t yet exist in industries that haven’t yet been invented in a world-changing faster than any of us can predict?

During Hunt’s speech I tweeted:

which *I think* people took the wrong way, which is why I’m writing this post; most uses of the “preparing young people for jobs that don’t yet exist” phrase bandwagon are utterly empty cul-de-sacs of educational discourse that our elected leaders hide in when they want to sound interesting. Of course, political speeches are often the art of making complicated civil service structural reform and legislation into headline grabbing generalisations but those of us at the coal face would still like to cling to the slim hope that this can be achieved with a smidgen of substance.

This doesn’t do that. It merely states the obvious, that schools have never known the future jobs their alumni would graduate to.

That is that schools and whatever wider careers framework they lead to have already been preparing young people for jobs that didn’t exist yet since, well, the beginning of schools and education.

Whatever formal schooling Tony Janus received in Washington DC at the turn of the 20th century it prepared him well enough to become the world’s first commercial airline pilot.

I doubt that Jonathon Fletcher’s school experience in Scarborough included learning about the possibilities of web-based indexing systems but that didn’t stop him writing Jumpstation in 1993, the first search engine.

When Adam Kontras started to document his move to Los Angeles to ‘make it’ in show-business with online vlogs, I doubt very much that his school experience covered becoming the first vlogger in an industry that now earns beauty vloggers up to £20,000 a month.

These are 3 examples from millions. Progress happens on the foundations laid by education and innovation.

Another problem with predicting the “jobs of the future” soothsayers trick is that those predictions are only based on a few criteria such as expected progress in affordable technology. Only a few years ago large numbers of people retrained to become Domestic Energy Assessors as the Government was due to introduce a requirement to gain an energy assessment as part of the planned Home Information Pack (HIP). Until, that was, when the  HIP was scrapped and, for a period, all of those newly qualified Assessors became suddenly unnecessary. An entire career pathway hung in the balance not due to advancements in technology or the changing needs of the market but on the stroke of a bureaucrats pen.

The CEIAG sector needs our politicians to be more lucid and eloquent when speaking about preparing the next generation for their career pathways. We need them to be able to summarise the skills and attributes that business leaders are saying will be needed to navigate the future labour market. Attributes to succeed such as:

and those detailed in reports such as Tomorrow’s Growth from the CBI.

This “future jobs” nonsense needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history before anymore of this ‘future’ happens.



  1. We need to build flexibility into the system rather than seek to predict everything. I think that this is where career developments real strength is. Help people to get good at thinking about their career, understanding the world and taking action. Give up on the idea that we can second guess the skills economy twenty years in the future.

  2. A serial recidivist writes:

    When I use a version of the phrase it’s part of a wrap-up of a brief discussion of why we need skilled workers, why we emphasise the need for flexible skills development and why it’s ok for young people not to get too stressed if they don’t feel they have a firm, clearly-defined career goal – after all, there’s a good chance that in the course of a long career, many of the audience will be doing jobs that rely on technology or methods we haven’t yet developed. I have worked on part of the revision of Standard Occupational Classifications – which have to take place every ten years to take into account the creation of new types of job (and that other types disappear) and so the process is thrown into relief when you have to try to work out what job exactly SEO specialists, for example, or vloggers are doing (is it marketing? Is it IT? Is it something else?).

    That’s why I think the HIPS example is important as it shows that the perils of training for a specific job are that you’re in a spot of bother if, when you’ve finished training for your job, technology or politics or whatever have moved on and that job doesn’t exist. A more flexible approach and an understanding from everyone that part of the job of the system is to equip learners for the unexpected and unpredictable, is what is needed.

    Tristram is right that there’s no point second guessing the skills economy. 20 years ago, the Internet was just being adopted outside universities and Government and there was no Google. The mobile apps market is a good example of a multi-billions industry that essentially didn’t exist 10 years ago. The chances are very good that unanticipated disruptive technology will make more significant changes to work and jobs in the next decade or two.
    The debate about the language and approach we take to this is an interesting one.

  3. I often use this sort of phrase in my workshops so I read your piece with interest. Thank you for being brave and thought provoking. I agree that jobs have always not existed so it may not be all that new an idea and that predicting skills is pretty redundant.

    My real question came up when you said “We need them [politicians] to be able to summarise the skills and attributes that business leaders are saying will be needed to navigate the future labour market.” I feel I often challenge students that you can not predict the skills you need and so they need to be able to deal with uncertainty. I guess my question is what place do you think prediction holds and want place preparing for uncertainty?

  4. The UKCES report on jobs in 2030 is an interesting read, I feel prediction is more art than science but I don’t feel we should abandon all discourse on the matter. It’s not just students on the receiving end either, Careers Advisors have been on the sharp end as well. I had a joke with my colleague (hello Tom) that eventually we will all be replaced by an app.

  5. I agree! But….
    I recently showed students some videos on You Tube: 3D printing of a human ear, the US Marines robot pack-dog, conductive paint. There is more than enough amazing ‘stuff’ going on right now that will blow their minds – we don’t need to look 20 years forward. It IS the job of careers education to open their eyes to new ideas and technologies – even just to help them make that link between these new technologies and the idea that they might be part of creating it, rather than just a consumer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s