26 JANUARY 2022 | FUTURE SKILLS | FUTURE CAREERS | BY GRAEME CODRINGTON
What should a young person study in 2022? And is university the best option?
Unless you’re absolutely committed to a specific profession (and had your children eyes fixed on that since you were young), most people have changed professions by the age of 30 these days.
That doesn’t mean a university education is unimportant - graduates still earn more than non-graduates, on average - it is way less important to “get a degree” these days than ever before. Many companies are also removing the need for a university degree as an entry criteria, especially internationally. For example, you can become a CA in the UK without a degree.
The real question parents and young people should be asking is not “what degree should I study”, but rather, “what skills and qualifications do I need to pursue my passion, my capabilities and my options”?
The concept of ikigai is useful here. It’s a Japanese model designed to help people find life fulfilment, and looks at four interlocking areas: what am I good at, what do I enjoy doing, what can I get paid for, and what does the world need. The sweet spot is to find something where all four of these overlap. It’s not always easy to find, but it’s worth the effort to at least try.
If getting a university degree is essential to opening doors that can help you achieve ikigai, and you are able to go to university, then do so and enjoy it. But there are many other options for young people these days, from colleges and training companies that can give you specialist skills, to online training for pretty much any skillset you could dream of. Also, these days, non-professional trades are highly sought after and can be very technical and lucrative, and might be exactly what will fulfil a young person who prefers to work with their hands and engage with people.
No matter what career you choose, there is also the need to incorporate technology - hardware and software - which means that becoming a programmer or technology expert might be the very best way to ensure your employability in the future. And not many of the world’s best programmers needed university degrees.
The advantage of thinking beyond university as the best (or even “only”) option is that you open a door to massive new list of opportunities, which might be much better suited to a young person’s skills, interests, capabilities and budget.
The disadvantage is that some old-school thinking people might still prefer to employ graduates. But this mindset is diminishing with each passing year.
Covid has not just been a disruption in and of itself, it has also accelerated some trends that were going to happen anyway. One of these is the shift in how we learn things. Covid has shown people that you can stay at home and connect with others via digital meetings, and taught young people that they can do online education. This should have the effect of opening people’s minds to search for and complete more online training programs. It will also mean that more online courses are available.
I don’t believe that any careers will disappear entirely. Almost every career will be impacted by automation, artificial intelligence (or, as I prefer to refer to it: IA, not AI: intelligent assistance) and algorithms. Certain tasks will be able to be done by machines.
So, instead of being concerned about which careers will disappear or become obsolete, whatever your chosen career, focus on pushing your knowledge and experience to the technological edge of that field. Make sure you are very comfortable with how technology will be integrated into your chosen field, and even be part of making this a reality.
For example, if you want to become a doctor, while you’re studying, focus on doing electives and additional courses in medical robotics, or software programming or data analytics. All of these will be hugely valuable in your medical career, and might open doors to future-focused aspects of your chosen field. The same would be true if you’re a lawyer, accountant or plumber.
So, it’s less about choosing a specific “future proof” career, and more about your attitude of putting yourself on the future-edge of the career you choose. And, as I said above, focusing on trying to find the ikigai in your chosen field of study and work.