It will very soon be the 2020s – in fact, the children starting school now will only enter university in the 2030s. We’re properly into the 21st century now, and the evidence that we’re “living in the future” is all around us.
Technology offers the most obvious evidence of the accelerated pace of change, with everything from significant advances in computing power that promise artificial intelligence and machine learning to flying and driverless cars being a reality already. We can point to radical advances in medical technologies, communication and new, cheap energy sources, and breakthrough technologies like 3d printing, the internet of things, robotics and graphene. But it’s more than technology that’s changing our world. There are significant shifts in our institutions, too. Changes in politics, the economy and even the world’s major religions are evident. Think of Donald Trump, Brexit, the Pope, and many other ways we’re witnessing profound shifts in the “rules for success and failure” in many different aspects of our world.
We are also changing – literally. Life expectancy is increasing at a rapid pace in almost every country in the world (American rural white people are a notable exception). Many scientists working on ageing suggest that today’s children have more than a 50/50 chance of turning 100, and many will live beyond 120. Today’s middle-aged parents will be said to have died young if we die before the age of 80 – that will be the first time in history that a lifespan of 80 years is concerned short.
The list could go on and on, but hopefully, the point is made: our world is changing. It’s not just changing quickly, it’s also changing in unexpected and discontinuous ways. All of this adds up to one simple fact: the future will not be a continuation of the past.
And that means one simple thing for us as parents: we cannot simply give our children what we had when we were young. In fact, we can’t even give them what we wished we had when we were young. Today’s young people are facing a future that will not look anything like our past, and we have to give them new skills, new insights and set them on a new path if they’re going to succeed.
To do this, we need to change our minds about at least 4 things:
1. Change your mind about careers
The traditional view of a professional career, starting with a university degree, proceeding through some form of articles to a long-term career in a single profession that culminates in retirement is, in a word, dead. It has been for some time, actually.
Very few people in their forties today are actually working in a job that they qualified from university to do. They’ve been much more mobile than they expected. Today’s young people will be even more so. And they’ll pace themselves to work longer too, given their longer life expectancy. Add to that the fact that about 25% of the career options available to graduates today didn’t even exist when they started high school, and about the same number of careers that might have been available to graduates ten years ago no longer exist.
And this includes some significant and high paying careers – think about stock brokers on the floor of Stock Exchanges around the world, or traders at investment banks. These have already been replaced by machines. When our children ask, “what must I be when I grow up”, we can’t honestly say these days that “lawyer, doctor, engineer, accountant, actuary, architect or vet” is the very best answer anymore.
2. Change your mind about jobs
And that’s why we need a change of mind about jobs too. The robots are not going to take away all our careers, but they are going to have a significant impact on the tasks that people do – especially professionals.
Take one simple example: your family doctor, the GP. Most GPs spend most of their time doing fairly routine and basic diagnostic work. They check your eyes, your ears, your throat and nose. They listen to your chest, take your blood pressure and check your pulse. If they can’t diagnose your issue doing that, they send you to get bloods done or to a specialist. Your local GP only has about a 75% success rate – that’s why 1 in 4 times you have to go back again a few days later. But IBM’s Watson computer, which has been focused on medical issues and diagnosis for the past few years is getting around a 99% accuracy in diagnosis – and not just standard or every day sicknesses, but some quite complicated cases too.
We can easily imagine a future where most of the work the GP does these days is done by a machine, maybe even through your smartphone so don’t even have to leave home. Similar arguments could be made for all “front end” versions of the professions: lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers, etc.
So, if your child wants to pursue a profession, don’t think they’re future proofed. Make sure they specialise, and try and push them to the “future edge” of that profession. If they want to become a doctor, for example, push them to specialise in neuroscience, genetics or medical robots.
3. Change your mind about the skills we need to develop
Our team did research into what will happen when robots, algorithms and software come from our jobs. We wanted to know what these machines could NOT do, and where human beings would still be required. Our research is captured at The Future of Work Academy, with much of our research available for free to the public, along with courses to help you develop these skills – see
In short, we found eight key categories of skills that will remain “human” for the foreseeable future. These are skills that we and our children should be focusing on and developing if we’re going to be future-proof in the 2020s. They are:
4. Change your mind about parenting
Finally, as much as we have to change what we’re aiming at for our children, we also need to recognise that parenting itself is changing.
Many of our children will stay with us, or rely on us until they’re into their thirties. And, by the way, our own parents are also going to need our help as they live longer than they expected and start running out of money. Very simply, your picture of what it was going to be like to be a parent is almost entirely wrong. We have to change everything, and that starts with changing our mindsets.
None of the changes I have suggested above are actually difficult to make. The implications of these changes are immense, of course, and so the thought of these changes might be scary. But it’s even scarier to imagine that parents don’t make these changes, and spend 18 or 20 (or 30!) years preparing their children for a world that no longer exists.
Let’s remind ourselves again, that the 2020s are nearly upon us, and that is the REAL future where the world is very different indeed. Our children deserve to be prepared to face that future with confidence. If we’re going to do our job as parents, we have to change our minds about what we think that looks like.
Graeme is a parent of three teenagers, international speaker, futurist and expert on the future of work. He is also the co-author of the best seller book 'Future Proof your Child'.