Betting on Uncertainty: Why Future-Proofing Kids Is a High-Stakes Guessing Game

How do we ensure that our kids are ready for whatever the future holds? Read on for tips from Dad Philip Cu Unjieng on how he future-proofs his own kids.

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In life, it’s said (and attributed to Benjamin Franklin) that the only two things we can be certain of are death and taxes. When it comes to parenting, without any irony, I’d venture to say that uncertainty is the only thing we can be certain of. 

We want the best for our children – of that there can be no doubt. And while “future-proofing” them will always be part of our hopes and aspirations for them, it’s such a rapidly changing world that it becomes more and more difficult to predict what fields of study and/or expertise and skills will best prepare them for their futures. 

It’s hard enough doing this when our children are in their early teens and we’re prognosticating on which skills and occupations will be desirable in the next decade. So, what more when they’re even younger, and we’re taking real long-shot bets on the best steps to ‘future-proof’ them. And yet, we all subscribe to the notion that the earlier the head start for our kids, the better.

Their future jobs don’t even exist yet

At times, more than actual skills, it’s attitude, the capacity for critical thinking, and an ethical foundation that will serve our children well. A report from Ascend from the Harvard Business Review stated that “85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet, and 65% of children starting school will one day hold jobs that do not exist as of now!” It went on to say how recent studies show that the average young person today goes through an average of 11 jobs in their career. The 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey shows that 43% of millennials expect to leave their jobs within 2 years. And while the reports and studies may be based on US figures and data, they do point to global trends that should be cause for those worry lines of parents to grow even deeper, as they ponder, “So what do I do now?”

Focus on soft skills

While the need to work on critical technical skills is still important (the STEAM direction of science, technology, engineering, arts and math is still, for me, the ideal mix), the larger challenge for the future lies in developing soft skills – skills that should be applicable in the future, regardless of what roles and industries your children may be thrust into. 

What are these soft skills that a large percentage of the young adults of today seem to have missed out on? In varying degrees, these would include 1) building confidence, 2) interpersonal skills, 3) ethics/integrity aptitude, and 4) critical thinking. 

Develop their attitude 

My eldest son has joined the workforce, while my two younger boys are still at University. So, I’m just happy my eldest, who works at GlobeStudios, didn’t fall into the “millennial mindset” that’s been such a horror story for employers of today. The “average of 11 jobs” of the millennials in the West? Some of their entitled Filipino millennial counterparts seem to want to get through those 11 jobs in two years! And I loved how one friend I have in the HR department of a multi-national in BGC bewailed how a new millennial hire called to say he wasn’t coming in that day because he had been looking for parking for over 40 minutes, and it was so exhausting and mind-numbing that he was heading back home.

And don’t raise your eyebrows at the second soft skill I mentioned: Interpersonal Skills. We’ve raised a generation glued to their phones, devices, gadgets and video games. While these hand-eye coordination skills do come in handy for a number of the desirable jobs of today, they’ve become such unsociable creatures, and so many have zero interpersonal skills. They’re such lone wolves and/or are so self-centered that they’ve forgotten about face-to-face etiquette and social protocol. 

Nurture skills that AI can’t replace 

Across the pond, a feature in the Irish Independent News echoed some of what the Harvard Business Review highlighted. The rise of AI, and how over a third of jobs in the UK were found to be at high risk of computerization within the next 20 years, was forecasted in a report by Deloitte and Oxford University. This means a more challenging employment landscape for the kids of tomorrow. Especially within the context of STEAM (science, technology engineering, arts, and math), it was creativity, resilience, and problem solving that were identified as the areas that kids should develop and learn to excel in. Again, soft skills will come in handy no matter what the future work situation may be.

The report went on to encourage the creative arts of painting, pretend play, music, and drawing as ways to awaken the child’s creative side, and open their eyes to the potential of STEAM learning. Problem-solving, like critical thinking, can be learned through practice. They need to have a system or approach to turn to -- and this can even include appreciating the value of collaboration (remember our remarks about interpersonal skills?).   

What both studies would seem to agree on, is that the future only holds a high degree of uncertainty. While technical skills will definitely be part of any child’s future-proofing, it’s too difficult to say with assurance which ones should be prioritized. Just as important though, is to never forget the soft skills we mentioned above. They may often spell the degree of success, advancement, and assurance with which your child encounters his future.
 

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Philip Cu Unjieng

Philip Cu Unjieng is a Philippine Star columnist and regular contributor; his articles are also found on Metro.Style of ABS. An aged ‘warrior’ in the parenting arena; he’s happy to say his three boys are now more mature than him.

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