The Future Career You Should Be Preparing Your Students For by Andrew McPeak
A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a group of high school seniors at a leadership and life skills development program. The subject of the day was becoming “career ready,” and I made a conscious choice to diverge from the given curriculum for the day (which was only written a few years ago) because it was simply outdated. I scrapped the lesson on “16 career categories” and instead led a discussion about freelance culture, networking, and the shifting job landscape. I know the path these students are about to walk all too well. It’s my story, and chances are, it’s about to be your young adult’s story, too.
According to a 2015 independent study from the Freelancers Union and Upwork, “Nearly 54 million Americans — 34% of workers — have done freelance work in the past year … [which] is 700,000 more freelancers in the workforce than last year.” In fact, it is estimated that a full 15% (up from 5% in 2005) of the U.S. workforce are pursuing temporary positions (such freelancing, retainers, temping, etc.) instead of full time work. In terms of entrepreneurship, it is estimated that there have been “just over half a million (530,000) new business owners [starting out every] month” in 2015. At the same time, unemployment has hit Millennials hard, with a reported 44% of college graduates in their 20s still stuck in minimum wage positions.
So what does this all mean? Forbes contributor Ashley Stahl puts it simply: out of mere ignorance, our Boomer and Gen X parents and mentors have “lied to [us by continuing to assume that] working hard and getting a solid education [still] necessarily leads to career success, or even a decent-paying job.”
If this comes off to you as a little harsh or overstated, please give me the grace to pause and say that this has been my exact experience. My peers and I were told something about our futures, sometimes subtly and sometimes frankly, that ended up being completely untrue.
I got a degree in liberal arts in 2011 from a small private college, and unfortunately, I was completely unprepared for the job market. It was tough: I was one of the lucky ones who was able to survive on my own, managing not to have to return to my parents house after graduation (though I still relied on them financially for several years).
In the last few years, this conversation has come up many times with my friends. The experience most of Generation Y shares is that many of our colleges were not aware of the current job landscape when we were being instructed, so we left prepared for a job market that had all but evaporated five to ten years before. This is not to fault our collegiate institutions or our instructors. We are, rather, in the middle of an unprecedented shift in the area of career.
When we recorded a podcast a few months ago with Brad Lominick (a leadership thinker and writer), he called the current career landscape a “gig economy”. Most successful creatives are not being hired with W-2s and benefits. Instead, these folks are being hired for a “gig” and then moving along to the next one. To support this shift, there are massive freelancing websites like Upwork and Fiverr that allow for gig workers to find paid work without needing to leave their living room. While some are forced into this work by unemployment or eradication of entire industries by technology, others are consciously choosing this life because of the freedom it affords them.
Four Pieces of Advice for Students
- If your child is interested in a “traditional” field like medicine, law, or education, not much about these career paths has changed. Perhaps the only thing to consider here is how the fields are changing. As an example, while the path for medicine has changed very little in recent years, the jobs available has. The medical field forecasts needing more and more Physician’s Assistants than MDs in future years. Check this list of future Millennial job paths to see where your child’s idea for their future is lining up with open positions.
- Success in the “freelance” world requires the values and skills of entrepreneurship, even for non-entrepreneurs. Freelance workers are effectively selling themselves for every single project, so the skills they will need are those most often associated with that of an entrepreneur. Skills like sales, networking, task management, financial management, branding, marketing, and communication are a staple for any freelancer, even if their field of influence has nothing to do with these kinds of skills.
- Learning to multitask will be the greatest challenge for “1099 employees” of the future.Most freelancers are required to work on projects, while still drumming up new business once their current work is complete. On top of this, freelancers have to manage their own finances and keep track of taxes, deductions, healthcare, and savings for retirement all on their own.
- Your kids will likely have 2-4 jobs at the same time. Most of the careers of the future will not switch out 1 job for freelancing. The major shift is that each person’s day-to-day work will look differently from everyone else. I have friends who work part-time in the mornings, run a non-profit in the afternoons, and weekends, and Kickstart music or art projects online in their spare time.
Can I make a prediction here? These hybrid careers will be the new normal within a decade. Depending on what you do now, this may be harder or easier to imagine, but mark my words: this change is coming. Are you preparing your students and children for it?