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Future-proof your children

No prizes for telling you that these are turbulent times; perhaps even perilous ones. So how do you help your teenage and young adult children, preparing for launch into... what? The World of an Uncertain Tomorrow? How do you help someone prepare for the unknown?

First of all, a little perspective. Just about every generation since 1500 has had exactly the same perception of their world, namely that things are changing too fast to keep up with, that ominous signs herald disaster and so on. In particular, nearly every generation has had this thought: that the things which changed because of some short-term crisis, which has now passed, are showing no sign of ever changing back to the status ante quo.

Am I saying the perception is wrong? Not really; I am just saying every generation has to deal with the same kinds of things. It feels worse to us because this time we are actually in the thick of it: what happened to previous generations is safely contained in books.

So a couple of thoughts to keep in mind.

  • While it is true that many of the jobs which will exist during your children's careers do not yet exist, this is not the whole truth. It reflects what the planners in big companies and in government know about the future of those big businesses and government organisations. But - there will still be playwrights and social workers and police officers and fire fighters and builders and accountants and plumbers and programmers. Truck drivers? Less clear thanks to the potential of autonomous vehicles; but globally in very high demand right now, so don't knock it as a first career. What I am saying is that unless you are already wearing spandex 24/7 and driving a flying car to your fully automated home in the sky, not every certain prediction - at least from The Jetsons - will come to pass.

  • But here is where it gets serious: a senior Partner at a big 4 accounting firm told me back in 2000 that the biggest problem they faced with graduate recruitment was that tertiary institutions were now preparing their students to succeed at securing jobs - any job, with actual suitability no object. That is a fairly innocuous sounding statement until you think about it. This almost guarantees that prospective employers have less and less chance of identifying the people they actually need, and therefore making expensive mis-hires. I am sure this lies behind the trend towards these same companies now recruiting directly from high school, rather than universities and other higher education institutions (not to mention the deliberate policy of other blue chip businesses to avoid recruiting graduates altogether). I think this goes much further than just the tertiary sector trying to be helpful - for example, young people are encouraged to build their online profiles, not to show who they are, but in order to attract prospective employers. If you are a parent and thinking "so what," then you probably haven't considered the impact on your child of getting into a job for which they are totally unsuited. It is a lose / lose scenario for all concerned.

So what to do? I have just said that our uncertain times may be even more uncertain than we realise, because many of the predictions we are making about the near future of work may be wrong or premature; and that many, maybe the majority, of those preparing to enter the work force have been unwittingly set up to get themselves trapped in a role which they can't sustain and which will never bring them joy or satisfaction. At least three players suffer in that scenario: the candidate who secured the wrong job; the employer who secured the wrong candidate; and the candidate who was born to do that role, but who was edged out.

So let me cut through the clutter for you. The future belongs to the person who knows who they are.

Note, I didn't say "who can invent a plausible persona." All that tired old "you can be whoever you want to be" narrative is the problem, not the solution. What I mean is that the person who can say "this is who I am, this is what motivates and engages me, this is what works for me - and this is who I am not" is solid gold to recruiters.

To understand why, let me quote Duke Ellington (and yes, he was a very successful recruiter: almost every band member he hired over 50 years was a legend). He said "if you get someone who can play every note on their horn, absolutely perfectly, it is almost impossible to write music which will showcase their talent. But if you get some cat who only has two good notes, then you are in business." In other words, it is our limitations as much as our strengths and talents which make us interesting and which make it possible for us to be built together with others into an organisational unit that actually works. And this is as true for entrepreneurs as for employees: woe betide the entrepreneur who can do everything; it is almost impossible for her or him to build a team, let alone a lasting organisation, because they themselves will always be the best person for every task. Or at least that is how they will be thinking.

You may have heard the saying, in a different context, that success is all about knowing what to say "no" to. Do you think this doesn't apply to your young people, as they look for the next step on their journey?

So to actually help your young person, here are some criteria:

  1. They are not you. This is not your chance to rerun your life with different choices. Trust me - I don't care how often someone has commented on "isn't she / he just like her mother/father". They are them, and you are you.

  2. They need to know who they are, especially in terms of what matters most to them, and what motivates and engages them. If you are thinking "well that's obvious", allow me to disagree. It at least won't be obvious to them - none of us have automatic access to this kind of self-knowledge, anymore than, say, a fish could tell you all about water; and even as a parent, it is unlikely that you have the whole picture: you see 'symptoms' of what lies beneath, but not what is really going on inside your child.

  3. They need to know who they are not. This is particularly tricky when it comes to jobs, because sometimes they will be drawn towards a career for which they have some significant motivational fit; and yet if they get into that career, they will quickly discover that their perception of the career was only partial, and that there are really good reasons why it is not for them. Take, for example, someone who is visually creative and outdoor oriented, who loves the notion of creating buildings and therefore wants to become an architect; but in a two week placement discovers that the creative outlet will take 10+ years to come their way (in the meantime they will be doing detailed work on other people's ideas with no creative outlet); and that while the buildings may take shape outdoors, they themselves will be firmly stuck at a desk, indoors. (Actual example from long ago; I just checked on LinkedIn, and the person in question is apparently still thriving as a structural engineer. Similar, but all the difference in the world in terms of what mattered to them.)

That short checklist is genuinely meant to be helpful, and I hope it is; but of course the question it begs is how do you do all that?

We have an answer, and this one actually works: it has done for thousands of young people around the world.

hoozyu uses The Birkman Method® Questionnaire to develop accurate, objective, non-judgemental data about who a person is, what matters to them and what motivates them.

It also helps them recognise who they are not, and what kinds of options are unlikely to work for them.

No one comes out of this programme without having multiple positive sustainable options to put into their "life menu". I remember a NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) kid saying to me years ago, "you mean I have a best thing?!?!" For someone who had stopped attending school at 14 (actually, who had been asked to stop coming by the school) this was a really big deal.

And of course, if you as their parent also complete a hoozyu, you will even be able to map my first point on the checklist - to what extent are we similar, and where are we different.

Forget recruiters, that is solid gold for us as parents.

Written by Jon Mason, originally posted on LinkedIn, December 2022


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