If a young person said to you: “There will be no work for me up ahead”, what would you say in response?

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The transitioning from ‘remote’ back to ‘real’ learning through 2020 will be problematic for educators and students alike. As many of us struggle with this lengthy process, what can help those transitions to succeed? Here is one option: Focus on supportive dialogue with young people, whether online or in real life. The quality of every relationship – personal or professional – is determined by the words we choose to use in that relationship.

In this compelling 4-blog series, Tony Ryan will explore the power of the conversations that we have with children every day. He will offer how you might respond to children when they say each of these four statements:

1. “I don’t like all of these endless changes.”
2. “I couldn’t be bothered caring about other people.”
3. “I don’t want to engage with my learning.”
4. “There will be no work for me up ahead.”

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A 13-year-old student (let’s call her Georgie) was recently lamenting with her teacher about the unsettling nature of her future. One of her parents had just lost employment, an older brother in his final year of schooling has few prospects for future work, and Georgie herself feels disconsolate about the viability of her own adult working life. Does she have cause to be worried about the future of employment, or is there a more optimistic perspective that might console her right now?

The coronavirus pandemic is creating some massive learnings for the world, both negative and positive. In the midst of the upheavals and resultant misery, one positive lesson is that quality time with your own family can be worthwhile (yes, some people actually do savour the experience). One negative lesson is the awareness that work has too often dominated the lives of many adults, to the detriment of their own welfare. Perhaps we collectively need to rethink the overwhelming nature of work in our lives. Today’s children might even benefit in the future from this lesson.

So how might you respond to Georgie when she says: “There will be no work for me up ahead?” Here are some options:

• There will always be lots of work for you to do. If you include volunteering and social justice support, there will be endless opportunities to make a contribution to society. Paid work, however, will be different from today’s experience, and will include flexible options such as part-time work, contract work and the ‘gig’ economy. You are less likely to have the one job for life that your parents and grandparents may have experienced.

• You will sometimes create your own work opportunities, rather than just waiting for someone to give you a ‘job’. Your initiative and enthusiasm will then drive your success in that work. Even right now, think about ways that you can become a little more entrepreneurial, either by yourself, or with a group of friends. Turn your talents into an opportunity to earn some money.

• In times of upheaval such as now, many new work opportunities become available. Employment options have recently increased in such diverse areas such as online learning, delivery services, counselling provision and medical support. Look for what people need at any time, and then learn how to provide it for them. This point will still be relevant for you when you eventually leave school.

• There won’t be as much work in factories up ahead, although the services that directly support people — such as health and education — will need more employees for a long time yet. Learning how to respect other people, and to really care about them, will be a critical skill in most people’s work future.

• One secret to making yourself more employable in the future is to develop your ‘enterprise skills’. These will always be needed, no matter what new jobs might be created. Here are some examples of these skills: Be a critical thinker. Know how to be an innovative worker. Understand how to use digital technologies that would benefit an employer. Learn how to be a worthwhile team member.

Work is an important part of life, although there are perhaps even more critical issues to ponder with Georgie’s future. Aristotle talked of eudaimonia, a Greek word that translates as ‘human flourishing’. This flourishing is derived from experiences that fulfil the soul and, by focusing on the human good, steadily enable you to become a better person. Perhaps eudaimonia will become the deeper purpose for our students (and even ourselves) in the 2020s.