Parenting for the digital economy

Help get children ready for the digital economy with advice from Luke Roberts

Parents and young people alike wonder what the future holds when it comes to the digital economy. Should the changing landscape of the job market guide children towards certain careers?

The digital job market

In the 20th century, parents and educators encouraged children to pursue careers as lawyers, doctors, engineers and other highly educated roles. Many parents invested heavily in their children’s education to achieve success in these professions, and school curricula often favoured academic students. These jobs were a way to guarantee a stable and healthy income and status.

However, the job market has changed and continues to change at a rapid rate. No longer are most finding a ‘job for life’. Instead, the internet and digital economy have grown exponentially. This has led to new jobs created in the digital landscape while large parts of heavy industry (mines, chemical plants and steel mills) have closed.

We are now seeing another big shift. This is the change in white-collar jobs such as law, accounting, business management and health.

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

Young people in the digital economy

We have seen new companies emerge very quickly such as TikTok and Twitter in the social media sector or Minecraft and Roblox in video gaming. This has led to the rise of influencers on these platforms.

The myth of young people dropping out of school to start their business as an influencer and ending up as millionaires sounds great. However, 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 will need in the digital economy of the future.

Even more challenging for young people will be their ability to sell their skills and time. There are likely to be fewer and fewer career jobs. Instead, more companies will want to bring in highly skilled people to work on projects for short periods.

Young people will need a range of skills: time management, self-motivation, networking and conflict management. The transferable skills of a freelancer.

Freelancers will need the ability 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. However, this is not realistic for the digital job market.

Skills needed to succeed in the digital economy

At the same time, we are seeing new jobs emerge in the digital economy. Coding and software engineering is one branch of digital careers. The world needs people to write code to program computers and important systems. It’s so popular that there is a branch of video games dedicated to teaching children how to code.

There is also a massive drive to get more young people interested in the cyber security sector. This is a continued area of growth for both governments and private companies. The ability to understand computers, firewalls, networking and more is vital as the internet continues to expand and develop. Cyber security might be the traditional job of the future especially as we head towards the metaverse and additional security risks.

Additionally, some young people earn tremendous amounts of money through video games as streamers, influencers or professional esports players. It’s not as simple as playing video games though. To become a streamer or influencer, children need some amount of video production and editing skill. Additionally, the ability to go out and join esport events requires some amount of confidence in their ability, which not everyone has.

Likewise being a blogger or vlogger (someone who blogs through videos online) can earn thousands of pounds from the content they post or promote to their audience. Becoming a success in these fields may require an ability to connect with others. This therefore highlights -the importance of well-developed social skills.

Creating tech and tools

There are new jobs we can speculate about for the digital economy as well. Dr Nicola Milliard from BT has suggested that a growth area will be the ability to help machines interact with humans. These might include interesting jobs such as ‘personality programmers’ for everyday computers like Siri, Cortana or Google to help users feel more comfortable talking to machines.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns, many workplaces have had to adapt to new technologies as well. Office workers may find themselves working from home or using a hybrid model.

This digital landscape has opened to the door to many new apps and platforms to keep employees connected. As a result, jobs that weren’t traditionally ‘digital’ have become more so. Furthermore, someone has to make and maintain these platforms, requiring technical skills that weren’t needed in the 20th century.

Finally, the growth of the virtual reality industry and the metaverse requires creative minds. From building 3D environments to creating new medical devices, a range of sectors need talented people for the digital economy.

Getting children job-ready in the digital economy

The challenge for parents is resisting the urge to encourage children to go for traditional and ‘safe’ jobs. The digital market changes so fast that skills learnt today may be obsolete in just a few years’ time, so children need to be flexible. Some things parents and carers can do now are:

  • encourage lifelong learning and skill-building: Children working in the digital economy need to be willing to constantly learn especially as new technologies arise
  • help children identify their transferable skills: In the remote-working models popular within the digital economy, there is movement towards freelancing for many. If this is something interests your child, it’s important to explore how their skills might benefit multiple sectors.
  • embrace new technologies: While it’s easy to write off new platforms, consoles and devices, these could be key in your child’s chosen career. For example, games like Roblox and Rec Room encourage users to create content. This gives many the foundations for a career in game design, architecture, home design and more.
  • have regular conversations about their interests: See what they do online and where their interests lie. Maybe you’ll see an opportunity to help them develop a certain skill or explore different careers before it comes time to make those decisions.
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