A college president recently told me that in ten years, half of their college graduates will be working at jobs that have not been invented yet. I read another futurist’s prediction that 85% of the occupations in the year 2030 haven’t yet been created. The implication is clear: Your college prep child of today may be preparing for something that doesn’t even exist. And that creates a lot of questions – first of which is, “What college major should my kid choose if their future job may not even exist yet?”
A Whole New Job Future
For those of us who have had a certain job title for a while or a job description left unchanged for a decade (or two!), this kind of future does not look very familiar. But we can coach kids to obtain flexible skills that they can employ for a lifetime. Most likely, they will use these skills in a variety of jobs. Regular retraining will be the new normal. Gaining skills that “work” in a variety of settings could make the difference between success and failure.
Our college-bound kids are growing up in a world where acquiring and developing transferable skills is the name of the game. So no matter what major a college kid pursues, the skills acquired in their specific concentration will probably need to be applied in some still unseen capacity. That affects the major they choose, certainly. But it should also influence the classes they pick and the experiences and skills they seek to gain along the way.
Skills May Matter More than College Major
These soft skills, these abilities that will apply across the changing job market in the future, are the things that your kid has a chance to learn – no matter what their college major turns out to be.
So should the possibility of a “yet to emerge job” impact your college prep kid in determining a major? Is there a best college major for the future?
No, I think my best advice for the high school graduate is still to find a field of study that lines up with their interests and aptitudes. And yes, they should also consider whether their major currently holds the prospect of employment. But when the job market is ever-evolving, realizing that a host of transferrable skills can be gathered along the way can give the student confidence in this changing world.
Skills Worth Collecting Along the Way
No matter what your college-bound kid studies and which career path(s) they end up in, the following experiences and skills will pay a lifetime of dividends. For each skill, I’ll give an example of a choice your student could make to hone this skill.
Team competitions in classes and in sports are just a couple of the ways that high school students are exposed to contributing as a member of a group. College will build on this to prepare for students for the future – if they seek out (and don’t shy away from) chances to gain team-building and team-participation experience.
For instance… Your kid may hate group projects. But those activities reflect much of what takes place among coworkers these days. When faced with a group project, students should not only jump in with gusto – they should also work hard to learn what being a great group member involves.
The ability to pool resources, to both share and learn from others while producing a product, is a key transferrable skill that will be needed.
For instance… Many student leadership organizations teach the good kind of “politics” that can help your kid build consensus in future roles.
Very few jobs require no writing ability – even if it’s simply communicating with coworkers. Regardless of the technology (or lack of technology) used, proficiency in written communication will be an important skill to possess.
For instance… As your kid chooses classes in college, they should make sure to add courses with a writing component. That will force them to gain this skill, under professors who want to build great writers.
Just like writing, public speaking is a form of communication that equips the student for countless situations in countless jobs.
For instance… When asked to give a presentation, your kid should choose a topic they really care about, or a topic they know well. Then they should prepare not simply “for a good grade” but to practice this skill that will set them apart.
Knowing how to navigate the world of available information, and applying information to each situation, is an ability that will be quite useful. It’s also learned through practice. Students who learn to investigate and delve deeply into areas of interest learn the research techniques that will distinguish their work.
For instance… Reports for social studies classes provide a great opportunity to collect and survey multiple sources for a topic.
The transferrable skill needed here is being teachable and flexible with whatever new technologies come down the pike. The technical scene changes so rapidly that your kid will be called on to continue what they have probably already done before: change the way they employ technology on a regular basis.
For instance… Your kid is likely to have plenty of dormmates or classmates who can teach them the latest tech. Just like improving an athletic skill, it helps to watch what others are doing, then find a way to make it work for you.
Empathy & Listening
Communication on a personal level will continue to be an important skill to refine, and empathy with others will always be a valuable component of personal communication. Like empathy, listening plays a key role in most of the other transferable skills that will be employed in the new and emerging world of work.
For instance… Plenty of service opportunities can help build this skill, from tutoring fellow students to serving kids in the city. Encourage your student to pursue some relational outlets during their college years.
In many workplaces, thinking “outside the box”, particularly in the solving of problems, is highly prized. This skill may be even more important for our college prep kids in the future as they confront situations that have never occurred before.
For instance… Joining a student organization that focuses on campus events or campus change will always need great brainstorming. Working on problems that can have more than one solution is a good way to build creativity.
Breaking down complex subjects into more understandable parts is a skill that follows us from kindergarten on. College-bound students need to refine this skill actively and purposefully, because they will be using it forever. It is a life skill far beyond a classroom or workplace.
For instance… Certain classes rely on observation of data – whether in the sciences or in a course like Poetry Interpretation. Your student should take advantage of the chance to learn analysis wherever the opportunity arises.
Determining the significance of information is a transferrable skill that your college prep kid has been developing throughout school. This will continue to be a key ingredient as they prepare for the future.
For instance… Your kid may have the chance to take advanced electives, or even “independent study” courses directly under a professor. These kinds of classes can develop critical thinking skills through difficult subject matter and a large amount of freedom.