Future of work: Skills and job requirements in the 21st century

7 min read

25 August 2015

The current youth unemployment crisis – one of the greatest challenges of our times – is paralysing societies worldwide.Prof. Dr. Peter Vogel has observed the skills and job requirements needed to get ahead in today's market, and explains why educators and employers need to unite.

While the youth population (1.2bn) makes up 17 per cent of the world population, unemployed youths (75m) make up 40 per cent of total unemployed population worldwide. In addition, even greater numbers of young people live in informality or do not show up in statistics because they have “slipped off the radar” of statistics offices.

On the contrary, businesses are struggling to fill their positions with adequately qualified personnel. They complain that young job market entrants are not equipped with the right skills and capabilities in order to add sufficient value to the employer.

In the European Union, there are six million unemployed young people, while there are four million unfilled positions.

This clearly illustrates that there is a mismatch between the skills and job requirements of businesses and what young people bring with them when they transition from the education system to the labour market. But who is to blame for this major mismatch and what can be done in order to right this wrong?

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Changes and requirements in the 21st century

This question is one of the central topics discussed in my new book “Generation Jobless? Turning the Youth Unemployment Crisis into Opportunity”.

The problem is unfortunately quite complex and, to name a few, there are plenty of different changes that are happening simultaneously:

  • Demographic shift with an ageing population in some countries and an increasingly young population in other countries
  • Ongoing economic and political turbulence in many regions of the world
  • Global rebalancing of political and economic power
  • Global migration patterns with a decrease in population in some countries and a massive increase in others
  • Growing diversity of countries with more nationalities, cultures, religions, and languages jammed into urban areas 
  • The introduction of novel technology that is changing our everyday life
  • The changing generational traits that will dictate the way future generations will live, think and work
  • New industries and jobs that are emerging
  • The virtual space is partly replacing real life

The speed of change seems to consistently increase so that neither the education system nor recruiting activities of employers can keep up with the pace. Hence, we are consistently observing a time-lag between demand and supply. 

Various education system experts are therefore proposing a “reset” of the education system in order to provide young people with the necessary skills for the 21st century workplace. But what are these skills and what does a 21st century workplace look like? What types of jobs will actually be there in the future?

Continue reading on the next page for more insights, which discuss how educators and employers can adapt.

What educators and employers need to do

Both the education system and the labour market need to act and react in order to get a hold of this challenging situation. Educators need to realign the curriculum to teach students the skills that are demanded by the labour market. By creating a skills framework, educators can ensure that students are more flexible, mobile and better prepared for the labor market.

While historically, teaching was centred on core knowledge-creating subjects such as languages, maths, natural sciences, arts, music, history or geography, there are various new skill-centric approaches that educators need to consider.

Over 50 different 21st century skills that are being discussed in the book, ranging from problem-solving to digital literacy, adaptive thinking, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, sense-making, communication, among many others. This is also in line with a recent decision by the Finnish government to drop subjects in school and replace them with topics.

Employers, on the other hand, have an equally critical role to play. They not only have to make sure that they provide jobs that are suitable for young people and that allow young people to enter the world of work, but they must also play their role in training young people and getting them ready for the job market. Thus, it is inevitable that they closely interact with the education system.

However, in order to do so in an effective manner, employers need to understand what types of skills and capabilities they are looking for – not yesterday, not today, but tomorrow.

Building up a skills supply chain is a critical, yet highly demanding task for employers. But it is only if they can clearly spell out what types of skills they are likely to need in five years’ time that the education system can adapt and start preparing young people adequately.

Moreover, employers need to build a 21st century workplace – one that “speaks” to the next generation of employees and allows employers to not only attract them to their organisation but actually retain them within the organisation.

If we want to solve the youth unemployment dilemma, we need to find short-term and long-term solutions. Two of the core stakeholder groups involved are educators and employers. They both play a central role and closing the gap between these two entities is one essential strategy to resolve the problem.

Better aligning the skills that young people bring with them when entering the job market and skills that the job market requires at that point in time will be critical. It is a big task, but not an impossible task. But the different stakeholders need to work together.

Prof. Dr. Peter Vogel is assistant professor for technology entrepreneurship at the University of St. Gallen. You can follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn. His latest book is Generation Jobless? Turning the Youth Employment Crisis into Opportunity (Palgrave Macmillan).