What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Sally Kneeshaw

By Sally Kneeshaw, on January 23rd, 2015

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When I Grow up I Want to Be…

Do you remember being asked that question as a child? What was the answer you gave? I remember at various moments I wanted to be a tour guide, an air hostess and a judge. But mostly I wanted to be an international spy. The type that wears a blue trouser suit and drives a sports car.

So what happened? During my studies I worked the holidays in a factory. Launching into employment I worked for NGOs, a newspaper, and a University. I specialised in campaigning and communications before going freelance and becoming a consultant working in European Policy. When I had the chance I also took time out to travel the world. Answering that question aged 10 I had little idea of what was ahead or what any jobs really meant, beyond being a teacher.

I was reminded of this by two experiences recently.

The first is the work undertaken by the Job Generation for a Jobless Generation team, whose special edition will be published in May, and who will be running a workshop at the URBACT City Festival in RigaPart of their investigation is about how employability of young people can match the changing jobs of the future. It includes reflections on the hybridisation of skills, meaning that the jobs of the future will require young people to develop a rich mix of skills both from their formal education but also crucially from outside interests, experiences and connections. Bob Arnkil, Lead Expert of My Generation at Work, rightly states that the job for life, normal for previous generations is now pretty much obsolete. Young people who are encouraged to seek out knowledge, given opportunities to have new and different experiences are more likely to find their way in these new hybrid careers, even to create jobs and businesses. So for a young person who loves gaming, those hours spent playing Minecraft in the bedroom, could eventually become useful if they also learn coding, remember their history, collaborate with other creatives and develop the next Prince of Persia franchise.

The second experience was being a speed-mentor for young women on UN International Day of the Girl last year. I had one-to-one conversations with three teenage girls and was fascinated by the questions and concerns they raised about their futures. One was already worried about how she might struggle to combine work with family. One talked about competition, and how she could prepare herself to compete with the brightest and best at University and beyond. They were all worried that they didn’t know the exact profession to choose for the rest of their lives.

My advice was that they should follow their hearts, pursue the subjects and activities that they love, whilst keeping an open mind, and choose options that open rather than close doors to them in future. It is highly likely that their career paths will include some bumps and unexpected turns along the way. They will inevitably face hurdles, and the best way to overcome them is to develop self-belief, good support structures, and the courage to not allow the possibility of failure to stop them from going for it and taking risks in the first place. I also recommended Lean In, the book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, full of useful advice to women, encouraging them to be ambitious, and to be careful not to worry about things, like work-life balance, before they need to.

In fact, given the right support and enough employment, this future world of many possibilities can be exciting. In Europe’s knowledge based economy the skills and talents of young people need to be promoted, and those of older people need to be retained. Already now, and in the future, retirement is more flexible. So maybe, who knows?

I could still become an international spy.

Photo credits: Childecare4Business.

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