OPINION

Preparing teens for jobs that don't exist yet

IT'S usually at this time of year that talking to a teenager invariably leads to one question: What do you want to do when you finish school?

Some may have already decided and will mention a role or profession.

But asking teens to decide on a career path based on their knowledge of roles that exist today and what interests them can have limitations.

A role that piques their interest may not exist in coming decades, and many future jobs have not been invented yet.

Indeed, a raft of roles considered commonplace today - cloud architect, content marketer, data scientist or app developer - were virtually unheard of 10 to 15 years ago.

We need to change the conversation. What if we started asking teens a different question: What are your strengths?

How many teens could list their key skills, and would they know what roles types those strengths are suited to, based on their perception of available careers?

Research by the Foundation for Young Australians found critical thinking and presentation skills are among the fastest-growing skills sought by employers.

Bosses are paying top salaries for employees with these and other "enterprise skills".

The Future of Employment and Skills Research Centre at the University of Adelaide foresees such skills being the key to future work success.

As a professional mentor, I work with elite athletes to prepare them for life after sport and we focus on their skills.

This approach has direct relevance to the way we should also be preparing teens.

For athletes, we start by identifying their top two strengths from a list of eight that includes competencies such as leadership, analytical skills, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking.

With this, we are able to identify the types of roles that might suit them - often opening their eyes to previously unconsidered career clusters.

We start to build on their strengths over time, to help them transition into a new career when the time arrives.

By giving year 9 and 10 students the same opportunity for informed decision making, as well as the tools to develop their strengths to support future career choices, they'll be able to make knowledgeable choices throughout their lives.

Simply encouraging them to follow their heart may potentially set them up for future failure.

Building up their natural strengths and matching them with the most suitable career clusters is far smarter.

This approach will prepare them for not just one role, but many related roles. Even roles that don't yet exist.

Brent Lehmann works with athletes, students and employees to create future pathways and has created a personal development program called ImproveMe.