Here we are again in September, and like many parents, Ni4kids’ columnist Alan Meban’s thoughts are returning to children’s education, exams and employment.

On one day this August, three press releases hit my beleaguered inbox.

The first heralded the latest set of Labour Market Data to be published by Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency. The employment rate in Northern Ireland has hit a record high, while the rate of unemployment has stayed low (particularly when compared with UK, Republic of Ireland and European Union). The level of economic inactivity – the section of the working age population not actively seeking employment – fell to the lowest on record, though remained the highest across 12 UK regions.

While there is uncertainty about the risk to the local economy of leaving the EU, particularly if there’s ‘no deal’, these statistics set a positive context for youngsters who are heading back to their studies at school or college.

Another email explained that most college students won’t use what they learn during a degree course when they find employment. Not terribly motivational if you’re about to fill out a UCAS form.

And the third one proclaimed that an online poll of parents found they were steering their children away from pursuing “lucrative 21st century careers” because they “don’t understand the opportunities”. Parents are “out of touch” by valuing traditional learning over creativity.

How well do most of us really understand the future nature of employment? OR Jobs that don’t yet exist and have no names?

Unscientific, and not up to rigorous statistical standards of NISRA, this survey revealed that the top five jobs parents would like their children to pursue were engineer, doctor, scientist, lawyer or architect. No big surprise there. The job parents most wanted their children to avoid was being a social media influencer, followed by blogger, gamer, stockbroker and banker.

This barrage of information reminded me about a Future of Work conference I attended last year. Speaker after speaker explained that in an agile employment environment Learn, Do, Retire is being replaced with a constant cycle of Learn, Do, Rest, Reskill, Repeat.

In an age of permanent obsolescence and the new world of humans vs machines, how well do most of us really understand the future nature of employment? Do parents realise that their offspring may well have a succession of quite different jobs rather than one settled career?

Armagh-educated academic Dr Jonathan Downing had some bad news and some good news in his keynote address. His research at the University of Oxford identified clusters of skills that could become new high-demand occupations. Jobs that don’t yet exist and have no names. Many of his examples were based around combinations of creative skills, design, fluency of ideas, oral expression as well as decision-making.

If Northern Ireland is to keep its high level of employment and low rate of unemployment, as children head back to their studies, perhaps as parents – and as an education system – we need to encourage the future generation of workers to embrace creativity and see it as valuable. Sooner rather than later.

And if anyone asks, tell them I’m a communications consultant, not a blogger!

Alan is a freelance journalist and arts/ politics blogger better known online as @AlaninBelfast

Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan


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