Young people have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. How do we ensure they don’t turn into the lockdown generation?
COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on young workers. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), closures of schools, universities and training centres has adversely affected more than 70% of youth who study or combine study with work. On top of this, 43% of workers aged 18 to 24 have said their productivity has decreased since they started working remotely, a new reality facing the labour force.
This challenging work climate disrupts and delays young peoples’ careers, putting them at risk of a gap in skills, potentially creating the lockdown generation. An uncertain future of work, with a fast-changing demand for skills and experiences, is a difficult reality for all young workers.
The Young Leaders on the Future of Work panel discussion, at FU.SE 2020, assembled a group of diverse young voices who are finalists of the Adecco Group’s CEO for one month programme, including Danny Elnatour, Iris Marechal, Teodor Zhekov, Sara Ettiss and Kai Nestor.
Hosted by Alexandra Robinson, president of AIESEC, the largest youth-run organization in the world, this inspirational discussion was an opportunity to better understand the beliefs, hopes and fears of this generation and include these much needed voices into the discussion on the future of work.
Adapting Skills Through Lifelong Learning
Desirable skills in the future of work are impossible to predict in this rapidly evolving and digitising landscape. It’s understood, however, that as automation continues to replace a growing number of human tasks, soft skills will become imperative in the workplace.
The panel mainly agreed that soft skills will be more important than hard skills moving forward. Importantly, lifelong learning, with a focus on change adaptability, being comfortable with uncertainty and self-learning, empowers workers to be agile in the uncertain labour market of the future. Sara Ettiss added that by adopting lifelong learning, “no matter what change will come, you will be prepared”.
Danny Elnatour, while agreeing that soft skills are necessary, pointed out the current reality that, for young people entering the workforce, “you cannot just come in with soft skills and expect ownership and autonomy. The way you can prove yourself is with hard skills and soft skills are more important later to showcase that you are happy to learn”.
A combination of hard and soft skills, therefore, are necessary for young workers. As the world of work evolves, and automation continues to take over many tasks, a lifelong learning approach will be crucial to adopt for all workers.
Inspired by Diversity and Inclusion
A major theme at FU.SE 2020, the Inclusion Imperative, focuses on how to ensure an inclusive and diverse workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the gap in inclusivity, with marginalised groups being hit the hardest. In fact, 1 in 8 young people have lost access to training and employment during this devastating crisis.
Addressing the need to systematically change how employers and workers value diversity, host Alexandra Robinson asked the panelists if they would accept a 10% pay cut to work in a diverse environment. Unanimously, the panel said yes.
Optimism for an inclusive future was felt throughout the young leaders. The idea that diversity helps generate new ideas and different perspectives was widespread and inspiring.
For Iris Maréchal, to be a good leader you “need to work in a diverse environment as you are creating real discussions where everyone can learn”. Creative, inspiring work environments will lead to a more prosperous future for society as a whole. On top of this, a diverse workforce will lead to diverse managers – positively impacting the structure of the world of work.
Young people, being entrepreneurial, creative, and digital natives – are best suited to understand and navigate this rapidly digitising world. The panel of young leaders certainly showed their confidence and positive prospects with an insightful discussion on automation and the future of human-machine collaboration.
In order to remain attractive, employable, and efficient, machines need to be part of every worker’s toolbox. Teodor Zhekov insisted that it’s “very important to have collaboration with machines since it makes work far more effective”. Even for jobs with a focus on soft skills, like politicians or social workers, machine collaboration is essential moving forward.
The Hybrid Work Model
The recent global shift toward remote work – necessitated by the coronavirus crisis – has raised new questions about the future of the traditional office. Will we go back to a physical workplace? Or is the new normal a hybrid model, where remote and in-person work will co-exist?
For young workers beginning their careers, remote work can have certain negative effects. Without in-person interaction with colleagues, communication is difficult, especially body language. Reading the mood of a person or group can also be difficult – made even harder for young people without the luxury of experience.
Although the panel generally agreed that a hybrid model will be the new normal moving forward, Kai Nestor offered a unique perspective on career growth limitations, saying that “the connection is just different remotely. Mentorship also becomes very hard in a virtual environment”.
Indeed, the absence of physical mentors and the connection to leaders will have an impact on young people just starting their career. Young workers will need to be adaptable to an increasingly digital workplace and create stronger virtual bonds with colleagues, managers and mentors.
Shaping the Future
Understanding the challenges facing today’s young worker is imperative for a sustainable future of work. Young people, after all, will be tomorrow’s leaders. Fortunately, as was clearly displayed at the FU.SE 2020 Young Leaders on the Future of Work panel, today’s youth is more than capable, enthusiastic and driven to tackle the challenges ahead.
Continuing to include young people in the discussions for the future of work is an obligation for today’s leaders. An inclusive and diverse world of work must be created by them, not for them, to ensure a sustainable future.
You can re-watch the FU.SE 2020 Young Leaders on the Future of Work panel here.
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