Blog 🍎 School 4th January 2017

Preparing Today’s Teenagers for the 4th Industrial Revolution

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Thea Pillay
Why is it so important for students to stay ahead of changes in industry and the labour markets?

These days, there’s a lot of talk about the 4th industrial revolution – the disruption of global labour markets, and the diverse impacts that these disruptions will have on current and future generations of workers.

At the beginning of the century, Ray Kurzweil, Futurist and Chief Engineer at Google, famously predicted that 20,000 years of progress would be crammed into the next 100 – 16 years in, I think few people would take issue with his prediction.

There are a range of forces driving macro shifts in labour markets – from burgeoning middle classes in emerging markets, to the increasingly relevant role of technology in industry, to women’s increasing economic power – and to be sure these forces will impact every age group in different ways.

But the group that we – at BridgeU – spend our days thinking about are teens, students who intend to enter the labour markets in the next 4-8 years. For these students, who are already grappling with a post-secondary education landscape that’s evolving rapidly in real-time, staying abreast of emerging changes in labour markets is not just important, it’s vital.

The importance of industry supply & demand

When I declared my major, at the beginning of my second year of university, as English Literature, I went to speak with one of my favourite professors, Alexis Jetter.

She had been a veteran journalist with a long career with the New York Times, and as a budding liberal editorialist for my campus newspaper, I was excited by the prospect of journalism. I waltzed into Professor Jetter’s office and proclaimed, proudly, my desire to be a long-form journalist. Just like her.

I remember her response very clearly, even to this day. In short she said don’t go into Journalism. Traditional print media has been on the decline for some time, she continued. Find out what’s next – and do that.

I took her advice, and didn’t go into journalism. I started an education technology company instead! But what Professor Jetter did for me, in some form, was make me aware of the importance of industry supply and demand curves.

In the case of journalism, students were still training, en mass, for roles in an industry whereby the supply of available positions was, and still is, on a steep decline.

Teenagers today need to be aware of the macro supply and demand curves across industries and job families so that they don’t pursue academic or vocational training that will position them unfavourably upon entry into the labour markets.

Or, if they choose to continue along a pathway whereby the overall supply of jobs within that industry is due to sharply decline over time, at least they’re doing so with the knowledge that competition will be tough, and they might have to reinvent themselves or retrain at some point to differentiate themselves from the talent pool.

An article by Fast Company proclaimed 2016 to be ‘the year of the Hybrid Job’, citing a study conducted by Bentley University that assessed 24 million job listings across 9 industries.

“They found that employers want multifaceted employees who possess hard skills such as database technology, coupled with traditional soft skills like communication and collaboration […]. We may refer to these skills as hard versus soft, IQ versus EQ, or left brain versus right brain […]. Whatever the terminology, employees must demonstrate deeper and broader competencies to be marketable”

Bentley University

The rise of the freelancer & the growing importance of personal brand

Millennials, more so than any other age group, are positive and productive freelancers. They gladly jump into contract employment, and seem to thrive on the independence of such work.

Freelancers are the fastest-growing segment in the EU labour market, and by some estimates, will account for 50% of the US & UK workforces by 2020.

Contrary to popular belief, millennials are not pursuing professions as freelancers because they think they’re special snowflakes who shouldn’t have to report to anyone. In fact, the emergence of the freelancer or contract employer closely mirrors the evolution of the distributed workforce.

It’s essential for those of us – educators, parents, and advisors – who work with young people to bear in mind that many of the teenagers of today will become the freelancers of tomorrow.

This implies that students need to be cognizant of building a dynamic personal brand, a skills fingerprint if you will, as early as 14 or 15. Evidence of achievement (academic or otherwise), skills and interests dating back to early high school will become an essential part of how employers evaluate young graduates – particularly in the case of freelance candidates.

Long gone are the days when employers only source talent from the Harvards and Oxfords, the McKinseys and Microsofts of the world. The brands of old will be replaced with the brands of new –from General Assembly to Github, from certificated MooCs to articles posted on Medium – and it will be the role of students to build a dynamic digital CV and link-driven portfolio showcasing the full range of their talents, skills and ambitions.

While existing outlets for the aggregation of such crucial brand information (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc) are limited by the scope of their original intent (Facebook for social connections/sharing – LinkedIn for professional connections, and a simple post-graduate resume), one can well imagine in the future a platform that enables young people to aggregate and build upon a personal brand from 14-24, with links to social feeds, digitized credentials, content published, code written.


One popular stat that serves to contextualise just how dramatic these changes will be claims that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. This begs an important question: how can we prepare students for a professional world that is constantly in flux?

While the responses to this important question are undoubtedly varied and the solutions complex, one thing remains clear: the ability to anticipate trends in planning a future – whether academic or professional – is crucial to enable students to take full advantage of their potential, and similarly to take full advantage of the exciting new trends and opportunities emerging across global labour markets.

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