Like many other students, my college-age daughters lost their summer jobs and internships. Until last week, we didn’t know if their colleges would be going online for the fall. We had a frank discussion about the fact that we were unwilling to pay the exorbitant tuition costs for online classes if their colleges only offered that option. In the midst of the upheaval, our focus shifted to re-assessing their preparedness for the changing world of work.
The three-part life we have known–education before the age of 25, work until 65 and then retirement–is rapidly vanishing. A college degree may not be enough to power my daughters’ earnings throughout their lifetimes. Even those students graduating with high-paying STEM degrees aren’t reaping long-term benefits. A recent study by Harvard Professor David Deming showed that those graduating with STEM degrees saw their incomes soon decline and 58% were out of the field within 10 years. Technological advancements are moving too fast.
Over the past few decades, the length of time spent in a full-time job with a single employer has been declining. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this now averages about four years for all age groups and a little more than two-and-half years for those 25 to 34 years old. It is likely my daughters will experience multiple transition periods related to work, either by their choice or because of their employer’s transforming needs.
At the same time, the nature of the workforce is undergoing change. An increasing number of people are now working independently. Powered by both employers looking for project-specific skills and workers desiring flexibility and autonomy, this emerging area is growing at three times the rate of the overall workforce. Self-employed freelancers ranging from professional accountants to Uber drivers are all lumped under a common umbrella, often called the “gig economy.”
The option to work independently has been made possible by technology platforms, such as LinkedIn, Upwork, Fiverr and Uber, that connect skill offerings to those looking to hire those skills.
Based on this, it appears my daughters will benefit from learning how to create a job, not just rely on posted hirings to find a job. They will be most successful if they have a skill to offer, the ability to market themselves on platforms related to that skill, and a network of friends and professional affiliations who may offer help finding work.
Agility is key and so is a growth mindset, as they will need to continually learn new systems and approaches.
There is a third earnings option that could help stabilize their incomes during turbulent times and that is the sharing economy or peer-to-peer (P2P) market of goods and services. Underutilized assets owned–such as a car, room, surfboard, or power tool–as well as home-grown or created products can become potential income sources. Again, technology platforms now allow these types of transfers to take place without going through institutions. Examples include Airbnb, Etsy, e-Bay, and Pinterest.
My daughters could be required to navigate two or three avenues of income for financial stability. They may weave in and out of them or have all three going at the same time. Regardless, they will need to develop a skill set and continually upskill as they move through life.
The ability to earn a living in the 21st century will depend on knowing how to: 1) get a job, 2) create a job, and 3) utilize owned or made assets for income.
On the bright side, the changing nature of the economy is creating freedom in lifestyle choices that accommodate caregiving and personal interests, as well as the ability to pursue more meaningful work. The potential of earning a college degree is available to all ages at any point in life. There are even shortened competency-based programs being introduced at popular institutions like Western Governors University.
New pathways to acquiring skills at more affordable and shorter-term rates are also now available. Udacity, Coursera, university expansion programs, and more offer skill training and certification.
I asked my daughters to identify their interests and find out if there were jobs associated with them or if there was potential to sell a product or service. Next, I asked them to explore short-term certification programs related to their interest or to the entrepreneurial skills they will need. Each chose a different area of focus; one started an entrepreneurship certification program called Classroom Without Walls and the other is learning a new skill so she can make a product.
As a parent, I need to encourage them to take responsibility for creating their own pathway. I have to step back and let them explore, even if it is not always successful. Guided by their conscience, they need to make decisions specific to their unique individuality, interests, and goals. The world they are entering is not like the one that I am familiar with so allowing them agency is essential. The toughest thing is letting go of the expectation that they need to follow a path that worked for me or that my vision of success fits with their vision of success.
They are the ones who must own their choices and the consequences. Having them rely on me or other authority figures to tell them what they should do is not a long-term strategy for raising resilient, fulfilled human beings.
There is one more thing I am requesting of them during this time. While living at home without a job, I ask that they commit to regularly volunteering. There are two reasons for this. The first is that there is a desperate need for help since so many lives have just been upended. The second is because they need perspective. To only focus on themselves and their goals is unhealthy, in my opinion. In fact, only looking at themselves in relation to those of the same age, especially via social media, is a recipe for anxiety and depression.
Our current education system is designed for a three-part life with stable full-time work as the cornerstone. This may not prove reliable for the majority of this generation. The ability to adapt to a swiftly changing world will require that they broaden their potential to earn income. In this light, my daughters’ unexpected time availability suddenly looks like an opportunity.