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18 September 2017

Time to learn and wear lots of hats

Written by: Sophie Bloxam, Account Director at Edelman

Innovation, Technology

September is here in full swing, and for those starting a new job, going back to school, college or university, it is a chance to start learning again, acquire new skills and think about the future. My husband has decided it’s time for a career change and go back to university to study an MBA. This got me thinking about the ways we tend to learn now in the world of work, our expectations about our careers and the role of technology. With an abundance of information and apparent opportunities out there, are we trying to wear too many hats, learn too quickly, or should we hone in on a skill and stick with it?

The decision for people to take a career change is nothing new or ground-breaking, yet it is still a relatively recent phenomenon compared to our parents’ generation, who tended to stay in the same, predictable career path and often employer their whole life. Now we are facing automation and the forces of globalisation, we (and in particular millennials) are becoming more willing to take control, it is not unusual to change careers up to four times in our lifetime.

Some mainstream media focus on the negative implications of AI and getting people worried about future job losses, yet millennials are optimistic about the future, with almost 80% thinking that technology is creating, not destroying jobs. Working in communications, I am surrounded by millennials who enjoy the dynamic and challenging environment – check out the recent Betahunt used to select Edelman’s latest round of apprentices (not just graduates), all of whom come with a wide range of unique skills and experiences. They see this industry as a constant opportunity to learn and embrace that it is changing so dramatically. In a recent blog, Richard Edelman talks about how communications professionals need to focus on giving strong counsel to clients based on taking risks, understanding the complexities in the changing world in an era of modern communications which is “earned at the core and social by design.”

As with many industries, the modern communications marketing agency now contains people with a wider range of skills and experience than ever before, such as from creative, digital and planning. Increasingly businesses need to recruit talent with a specialist range of skills, but without certainty that there is a long-term need. They often recruit them on a contract basis, with some estimating that nearly 40% of UK companies already hire most of their new staff on a temporary or project basis, and that half plan to hire more temporary workers by 2020. By recruiting talent from the “gig economy,” this can offer a win-win situation, where workers can work flexibly (often on lucrative deals) and develop their specialist skills in a range of environments, and for the company to have the expertise to help solve specific and immediate challenges. Our client Samsung predicts a future of these armies of freelancers having five jobs at the same time, who can “use technology to connect deeply within multiple organisations simultaneously, working with multiple corporate data sets but fiercely protective of the privacy of their own data.”

So, will our children be changing careers 4-5 times in a lifetime, whilst working for 5 different companies at the same time? That sounds ambitious and mind-boggling, but with developments in AI and data security and the insatiable appetite for millennials and now Generation Z to learn and gain new experiences, it could become the norm. For those currently entering education (see my MD’s blog on the topic) or going back to it after a 20 year break in my husband’s case, there is the scary view that we live in a world where as many as two-thirds of the jobs don’t yet exist. This unpredictability in every industry shows there is even more reason for young people to wear lots of hats, be open-minded and optimistic about where their career(s) will head, be adaptable and learn as quickly as possible. Being confident and possessing strong decision-making in choosing the right hats will be essential for young people to learn and succeed, and of course making AI your friend.

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