Challenges of parenting in the digital age

Image attribution: Steven Depolo under Creative Commons License

For parents there is the age old question, ‘what will my child do in the future?’ Luke Roberts discusses the changing landscape of the job market in the digital age.

The changing landscape of the job market

In the 20th century, encouraging children to be lawyers, doctors or engineers would have been the ideal future that most parents would have aspired their children to become.

Many parents invested heavily in their children’s education to achieve success in these professions and school curriculums favoured highly academic students. These jobs were seen as a way to guarantee a stable and healthy income and a certain level of status in society in the long-term.

In recent years, following the loss of the ‘job for life’, the growth of the internet and the digital economy in the noughties and the closure of large parts of heavy industry (mines, chemical plants and steel mills), the jobs market has changed at a rapid rate.

We are now about to see the second big shift. This will be the change in white-collar jobs such as law, accounting, business management, and health.

At the launch of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Young People and Social Technology, futurologist Nicola Milliard from BT explained that over the next 10 years the workplace is going to change dramatically.

Jobs that involve high levels of creativity or high levels of emotional engagement will drive particular industries. For example creative industries such as movies, videogames, and advertising require unique skills of persuasion and insight to tell a story.

Likewise, jobs involving care, particularly for the elderly or young people will be growth sectors because machines can’t replace human interaction.

Are young people job-ready in the digital age?

We have seen new companies emerge very quickly such as Facebook and Twitter in the social media sector. The myth of young people dropping out of school to start their business and ending up as millionaires sounds great but as parents we are often risk averse.

Very few parents say great idea and let’s go build a company! Yet having the idea and acting on it may be one of the key skills young people are going to need in the digital economy of the future.

Even more challenging for young people will be their ability at selling their skills and time. There is likely to be fewer and fewer career jobs with more companies wanting to bring in highly skilled people to work on projects for short periods as opposed to the job for life.

This will demand a range of skills from time management, self-motivation, networking, and conflict management – The freelancer.  Freelancers will need to be able to see opportunities and help add value to a service or product. This may be vital for the future but many parents still view a job for life as the safest even though there are fewer career jobs than ever before.

Skills needed for children to succeed in the digital economy

At the same time we are seeing new jobs emerging in the digital economy, the focus of government is very much on having young people knowing how to code computers. Clearly the world needs people to write code to program computers.

There is a massive drive to get more young people interested in the cyber security sector as this is going to be a growth area for governments and private companies. Cybersecurity might be the traditional job of the future.

However, some young people are being paid tremendous amounts of money to play video games – something we often tell children to stop doing. Likewise being a blogger or vlogger (someone who posts videos online) can earn thousands of pounds in sponsorship from companies interested in promoting their product to that person’s audience. This is based on the ability to connect with others, again highlighting the importance of social skills.

Then there are the jobs that we can only speculate about being created in the digital economy. Nicola Milliard the futurologist from BT has suggested that a growth area will be the ability to help machines interact with humans.

These could include interesting jobs such as ‘personality programmers’ for everyday computers like Siri, Cortana or Google to help users feel more comfortable talking to machines. There is also the growth of the virtual reality industry which will require creative minds to help create new 3D environments from the practical such as helping patients understand how a treatment is working on a disease in their body to imaging how people will act in the cities of the future.

What parents can do to get their children job-ready in 21st century?

The challenge for parents is going to be to resist the urge to tell their children to go for the jobs that they were told were safe or traditional. For parents and carers helping their children to identify skills which will be transferable and can benefit multiple employers.  In embracing technology parents are going to have to be curious and confident if we’re to help young people navigate and find the jobs of the future.

Additional information

Here are some resources to help you learn how to improve your child digital skills:

Techknowlege: Future Skills