CAANZ Kirsten Patterson: future of work

CAANZ New Zealand boss Kirsten Patterson.
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CAANZ New Zealand boss Kirsten Patterson.

OPINION: When I left school, many of my school mates chose to "be" something – a doctor, a mechanic, a teacher, a nurse. Some I think chose to be an accountant.

I chose law and I imagined I would be a lawyer for life.

It didn't turn out that way for me.

What jobs will be pursued in the next 10 years?
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What jobs will be pursued in the next 10 years?

Maybe (by accident) I was ahead of the curve.

I fully expect that my children (now aged 10 and 7) will, at some point in their working lives, end up doing something very different from what they think they will be doing when they leave school. Maybe jobs that don't even currently exist.

So the skills they learn in higher education – and beyond – will increasingly need to be transferable to different contexts.

For the record, my daughter wants to be a plastic surgeon (thanks to her addiction to Shortland Street) and my son plans on being an All Black with a "day job" of being a Police Armed Offenders Squad member.

Two recent studies by the Chartered Accountants ANZ, one into the impact of Disruptive Technologies, and the other exploring the Future of Work, shed interesting light on the choices facing school and university leavers in 2016.

They show the traditional workplace scenario is changing. School leavers today, whether they move on to higher education (and about 60 per cent will) or not, are facing a "life of jobs", rather than a "job for life".

A LinkedIn survey earlier this year suggests recent graduates (in the US at least) are changing jobs almost twice as often as their parents' generation. Job hopping every 2-3 years (sometimes from choice, sometimes as a result of tech-induced disruption) is seen as normal behaviour, and industry hopping is increasingly common

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One of the consequences of a mobile job environment is people need to continue to learn and upskill throughout their careers. Many 2016 school leavers may feel they never want to see another classroom – ever. They may have no choice but to do so.

Our research suggests half of early career employees expect to do more formal study in the future, and a quarter expect to pursue informal education, like online courses.

How about our universities? Are they preparing students for the new world out there? Let me use law as an example. The University of Auckland recently announced a significant increase in the number of law students.

Staff argue there aren't enough jobs in law; the university says law is a good degree for a range of careers. Put it another way, law has become the modern-day BA – it just proves you can read and write and apply judgement.

I worry that students leaving university with a law degree expect a law job. It is increasing unlikely to work out that way. Look at me.

Our modern workplace needs:

● People with a wide variety of skills

● People with flexibility to change jobs or industries

● People with the attitude and capacity to upskill regularly during their career.

But what I often see is employers looking for specialists – experts in narrow areas – who stand out in the crowd of generalists.

This is not setting these employees up well for the workforce of the future where workplace disruption could see their jobs disappearing or transforming into something requiring new skills sets.

To give you an example from accounting, many roles are changing because of automation.

I'm not arguing that tertiary education isn't important – far from it. These days many entry level roles require a degree or higher qualification.

Our research found around 25 per cent of the working-age population now possesses a Bachelor degree or higher qualification, compared to around 5 per cent in the early 1980s.

But these pieces of paper can lose relevance quickly. The study showed 52 per cent of employees with less than five years' experience already see their qualifications as not being particularly relevant to their work.

So my advice to those 60,000 or so school leavers who will (really or metaphorically) burned their old school ties last month? Don't be too hasty to think that your education is over.

Like it or not, you are preparing for a "life of jobs" not "a job for life" and, as some well-meaning old gaffer has probably told you at some school assembly over the last 10 years, learning really is a journey, not a destination.

Go well.

Kirsten Patterson is the New Zealand country head for Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.

 - Stuff

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