And nothing has changed.
If anything, that prognosis has been reinforced and more clearly defined in recent years.
Take millennials. Their life expectancy is almost double that of their great-grandparents’, which translates to a working life roughly three times as long.
Based on that fact alone, it’s safe to say that many millennials will have a number of careers.
Factor in the rise of technology, the loss of existing jobs and creation of new ones, and shifting attitudes towards work and it’s hard not to see the youth of today having several careers before they retire.
The Director of the Future Schools Alliance puts it thus: “The old future that you go to school, get good grades, get into uni, get a good job, buy a house and all will be well, isn’t true anymore”.
Indeed, whilst a university degree has never guaranteed the holder a worthwhile career, the odds of getting a decent job upon graduation are perhaps lower than they’ve ever been.
Fewer than 70 per cent of graduates find full-time employment within four months of graduating, median starting salaries have dropped by 15 per cent since the 1980s, and up to two-thirds of new graduates face prolonged periods of part-time or underemployment for the privilege of gaining a foothold in their chosen field.
Things are bleak.
Therefore, not only do we need to rethink education, we need to reframe students’ expectations. Today’s students need to embark on their working lives knowing that they will have to continuously update their skills if they are to thrive.
According to current projections, up to 40 per cent of university degrees may become obsolete within 10 years owing to job losses in a range of industries from agriculture to retail.
Moreover, 20-47 per cent of today’s jobs could be lost to automation.
That said, the rise of the robots won’t necessarily be all bad for job seekers.
It’s widely believed that new jobs will be created, even as AI (artifical intelligence) becomes more and more pervasive.
AI experts see opportunities for poets, empathy specialists and humourists as we try and build the very technology that will spell the end of other, more mundane jobs.
Robots or not, what we’re headed for is a future where work will be increasingly transdisciplinary, with employees who can demonstrate skills in disparate fields valued more highly than specialists in one field.
Professor Sherman Young, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Teaching at Macquarie University, is one of the country’s leading proponents of this broader approach to education.
For Young, the current preoccupation with getting more students into STEM subjects misses the point, or at least an opportunity. Apart from anything else, jobs in STEM related fields are in decline.
Young prefers to think in terms of STEAM - the combination of typical STEM subjects with arts subjects such as dance, drama, music, visual arts, design, new media and the humanities - to make for more rounded graduates. For Young, such a move would have a number of practical benefits.
A more holistic approach to education would equip students with a more diverse range of skills, which isn’t a bad thing. It would also help bridge the arts and sciences divide, by showing students how their respective fields influence and impact the other.
But most importantly, according to Young, a STEAM-focused approach to education would give students a “new way of thinking that is ... multifaceted and inclusive”, which would better equip them to solve real work problems.
There’s no arguing with that. After all, the real world is rarely a black and white affair.
To find out more about designing an education sector that will adequately prepare students for an unknowable labour market, download Canon’s new whitepaper, The Future of Education, which canvasses the thoughts, opinions and predictions of a wide range of education experts.