Next Generation of Workers Prepare for Unknown
JA helps students to switch gears, innovate and be nimble
How do you plan for the unexpected? That’s a big question for youth and JA Canada. The answer will help determine how today’s students can embrace the future of work.
Across the economy, occupations and entire sectors are transforming due to technology and globalization. That heightens the importance of helping students hone the qualities that will serve anyone well in the new workplace.
“Our mission is to inspire youth and prepare them to succeed in the global economy,” says Scott Hillier, President and CEO of JA Canada. “There are prerequisites for success, no matter what you’re going into.”
JA has existed almost 100 years. Back then, jobs included steam railway conductor and telegraph operator. JA has endured by focusing not on specific careers but on universal skills. “The experience of going through JA programs has been timeless,” Hillier says.
As Canada’s largest youth business education organization, JA offers free programs (for students and schools) in financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship. These pillars still resonate. In a fast-changing world, Canada needs people who are enterprising in every way.
That’s what organizations are seeking, says Shirley Malloy, VP, Market Planning and Community Banking, TD Canada Trust. Her financial institution is not only a major employer, it also sponsors three JA programs (Dollars with Sense, Economics for Success, and the Company Program), and has about 1,000 staff who serve as JA volunteers.
“The emergence of non-traditional competitors is forcing companies to think differently,” says Malloy. “To compete, companies require employees to be more innovative, agile and flexible.”
Those attributes can take you far. Hillier notes that these are the very areas where the Companions of the Canadian Business Hall of Fame excel.
“JA gives students an opportunity to explore these qualities, test themselves and see success as a result,” says Hillier.
The environment in which we’ll work is shifting dramatically. With technical advances and greater global connections, McKinsey says change is happening 10 times faster and at 300 times the scale of the industrial revolution. That’s 3,000 times the impact.
Globally, automation and artificial intelligence will spur productivity, but according to McKinsey may displace up to 800 million jobs and require 375 million workers to change their occupation by 2030.
In the meantime, the digital transformation poses other challenges. In a PwC Canada survey, almost half of Canadian organizations (46%) called a lack of properly skilled teams a barrier to getting results from digital technology.
Despite the recognition of the importance of digital literacy – in preparing students, workers and all citizens for the digital economy – the Brookfield Institute says Canada appears to lag behind significantly in promoting it.
A tech-savvy talent pool can make a huge impact, not only in digital product and service development. As the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) says, such a workforce can also: 1) create ideas for new digital business models; 2) use digital channels to interact with customers; 3) aggregate and analyze data to understand what customers need; and 4) devise operations improvements, i.e. new ways of working and boosting efficiency.
Ensuring the technical skills that students will need is an obvious requirement. Just as important, says JA Canada’s Andre Gallant, are the soft skills with broad applications.
“We know what jobs will likely go away, but don’t know what jobs will exist when today’s middle school kids will be graduating,” says Gallant, Director of Programs and Charter Services. “For us, it’s all about 21st century skills. Being adaptable to the unknown is the skill that might be the most important in the next 20 or 30 years.”
Entrepreneurship is an attitude
To instruct the digital generation, Gallant says it’s vital to use the methods that resonate with them.
JA is reaching and engaging more youth through a new digital strategy. It encompasses the use of digital delivery options, with content available through the most relevant platform. This includes e-modules (for self-directed learning), and gamification (to make learning more entertaining). Online career and personal assessment tools will also help students identify their future paths and how to get there. Innovation weaves through. For instance, in JA’s Our Country program, students learn about Canada’s technological past and present, and also share ideas about innovations for business and society. Meanwhile, Our Business World explores how companies are created and what makes them thrive.
Both programs focus on innovation, but in different ways. Innovation isn’t just new technology, it’s also applying new ideas to existing products, services or enterprises. Gallant says JA must convey that importance. The world is shrinking and evolving rapidly – “And you have to be able to keep up,” he says.
Success in the digital world calls for certain attitudes as well as aptitudes, he suggests. When JA discusses entrepreneurship, it doesn’t just refer to running a business. It means providing solutions, in creative ways, to generate new opportunities.
Here’s how Gallant puts it. If you go to a hardware store for an 8mm drill bit, what you’re really seeking is an 8mm hole. The innovator looks for novel ways to make that hole.
Gallant cites Uber. You can call it a transportation service or a technology company. But it started as an answer to a question: when someone needs a ride, what do they really want? A traditional taxi? Or a solution, in whatever form, that’s faster and cheaper?
“You don’t have to totally upend a service or product to be innovative, you just have to be better at one aspect,” says Gallant. “We push that concept as much as possible.”
Part of readying JA youth for the new workplace is instilling the need to be nimble. In the Company Program, for example, high school students learn how to organize and operate a real venture. The business model canvas is a new approach for JA this year, allowing students to jot down plans but change on the fly.
“What you learn today could be obsolete tomorrow,” says Gallant. “The canvas lets you rearrange as you’re going. It’s a more adaptable program for the modern world.”
That dexterity is a powerful 21st century skill. So is the ability to sift through information, says Gallant. Technology has given us reams of data, available in just-in-time mode. The digital worker needs to know what to do with it.
“The skills we want to teach are knowing reliable sources and parsing information quickly,” Gallant says. “It’s about digital literacy. The application of knowledge and not just the retention of knowledge is what’s salient for modern employment.”
A passion for success
To drill that, JA has the benefit of drawing on its corps of volunteers. While digital pedagogy is vital, so is the practical wisdom gleaned from real-life work experiences. Last year, almost 12,000 individuals volunteered with JA to help make a positive impact on the lives of Canadian youth. These dedicated individuals come from a variety of business backgrounds, and sign up through their organizations’ JA volunteer programs.
What impact do these volunteers and JA’s range of programs make? The results of a BCG study shows how exposure to JA helps students to succeed in tomorrow’s careers and solve tomorrow’s challenges.
Achievers are 50% more likely to open their own business, which leads to innovation, new jobs and wealth creation. They’re also three times more likely to hold senior and middle management positions in their respective organizations.
Beyond the workplace, graduates from JA programs save more and borrow less than the average Canadian. They develop real-world skills to apply to their lives immediately, like budgeting, investing and aligning their financial choices with their goals.
“Boosting financial literacy and confidence can have a real and lasting impact on financial outcomes, by helping people better manage their money,” says Malloy.
Two-thirds of Achievers say JA has also had a significant impact on their decisions to stay in school and enroll in post-secondary education.
Whatever the path students choose, “Junior Achievement is nurturing the skills required to compete in the changing environment through its programs,” says Malloy.
According to BCG, JA’s work has a direct impact of $105 million on Canada’s economy each year. JA in Canada creates an annual return to society of $45 for every $1 given by supporters.
All that, by serving 250,000 students a year. That’s just 7% of what JA could reach. Imagine if JA tripled that, says Hillier. That would still be only one in five Canadian students, but think of the massive potential impact on personal and work success.
Each student can figure out what success means to him or her. What matters, says Hillier, is that JA is a springboard, igniting a passion for pursuing success.
As the work world changes, with any job in any field requiring new skills, the ideas of passion and pursuit are essential. That’s what Achievers carry with them.
“People who have passion love what they’re doing and always seek improvement. They’re change agents, risk takers, not satisfied with the status quo. That defines them,” says Hillier. “When you talk about pursuing, it’s a journey not a destination. You can always do better.”
So can JA, with the continuing generosity of its donors and volunteers. Promoting the need to be inventive and adaptable will benefit today’s youth and tomorrow’s economy.