How do you prepare for careers that don’t exist yet?

By Dan Gray

EY Global Corporate Responsibility Knowledge Leader

Purpose-driven strategist. Sustainability and social entrepreneurship advocate. Integrative thinker. Author. Storyteller. Rugby fanatic. Amateur chef. Giant.

5 minute read 4 Jun 2019

How to help young people develop the mindsets and transferable skills they’ll need most to adapt and thrive in a Transformative Age.

Paid employment is one of the most obvious ways of empowering people to contribute to and share in sustainable economic growth. Yet it’s an opportunity not afforded to roughly 65m young people around the world today.

Global youth unemployment has remained broadly static, despite more and more young people completing secondary and tertiary education. This begs the question: is what they’re learning in school adequately preparing them for the working world of today and tomorrow?

Many educators and employers argue that it isn’t. While the world wrestles with the implications of a Transformative Age, by and large, our education systems remain stuck in the industrial one — a factory model, based on standardized courses and standardized testing, that appears increasingly unfit-for-purpose in a world faced with immense global challenges.

What should young people be learning?

By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary education today will end up in careers that don’t yet exist. By another, up to 800m jobs globally could be displaced by automation by 2030. How can we prepare our children — and indeed ourselves — to thrive in an age of such unprecedented transformation and uncertainty?

Mindsets and transferable skills — such as initiative and self-reliance, creativity and innovation, and critical thinking and problem-solving — are a common answer to that question and it’s not hard to see why.

In a future defined by careers that don’t even exist yet — likely using technologies that haven’t been invented to help solve challenges we don’t yet know we have — the greatest gifts we can bequeath our children are the ability to adapt to change, the desire to constantly learn new things and the capacity to innovate better answers to complex problems. As well as better preparing young people for the future of work, there’s a growing body of evidence that success in school depends as much, if not more, on development of “noncognitive” skills as cognitive ones.

This is the beauty of mindsets and transferable skills. Their development can simultaneously meet shorter and longer-term objectives, both improving educational attainment and helping young people take significant strides to becoming independent, resilient and enterprising citizens.

This is especially true when they’re combined with skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), which are foundational to critical reasoning and problem-solving, and which will be essential for around three-quarters of the fastest growing future occupations. Research shows that students who study STEM are more creative, flexible and able to take advantage of the changes that are predicted in the workforce and workplaces of the future.

Time for business to step up

Organizations — EY included — are recognizing the increasing need for such “21st century skills.” This is why we’re working with some of the world’s leading youth-focused NGOs to foster the development of mindsets and transferable skills among young people of all ages.

For example, all around the world, EY professionals support Junior Achievement (JA Worldwide) programs to prepare young people for employment and entrepreneurship. This includes mentoring students on the JA Company Program, which seeks to help students develop entrepreneurial mindsets and skills through practical experience of creating and managing their own business.

In South Africa, EY NextGen is helping develop the continent’s next generation of female leaders. Through this initiative, EY people mentor underserved girls from Grades 10 through to university, teaching them resilience and business skills, and creating a network of high-achieving young women who support each other on the pathway to further education and employment.

Growing up, I was exposed to young people falling pregnant and dropping out of school, but I’ve learned I don’t have to choose that path.
Lehlabile Davhana
NextGen alumna

In the US, College MAP (Mentoring for Access and Persistence) matches EY professionals from all ranks and service lines with groups of underserved high school students in 37 cities. This group mentoring model brings a wider variety of perspectives to guide and inspire students, not only raising their aspirations of attending college, but also providing support and coaching on the life skills that will help them remain in college and complete their degrees.

Across the world, EY member firms also support a variety of initiatives designed to maintain and promote young people’s interest in STEM — especially encouraging more young women to consider STEM careers. These include Girls in ICT (information and communications technology) Day in Germany, Austria and Switzerland; Girls Who Code in the US and STEMettes in the UK.

Starting ripples that can grow into huge waves of change

Developing mindsets and transferable skills in the next generation serves multiple purposes. It not only makes young people more attractive to corporate employers, but gives them the capacity to create their own careers. Experiential learning especially, rooted in the fundamentals of developing a business idea, promotes a positive disposition toward entrepreneurship as a career choice. Learned in the context of developing a social enterprise or community project, it may even inspire the next generation of social impact entrepreneurs.

And the direct impact on young people’s ability to create, find and sustain meaningful work is only the beginning. Helping underserved students develop the confidence to attend college — and the grit and determination to succeed — inspires younger friends and siblings to follow in their footsteps. When someone they know has been there and done it, it’s easier for them to imagine doing it, too.

At a systemic level, we hope and believe that when governments see the measurable results of developing mindsets and transferable skills, it will pave the way for their teaching to be given much greater prominence in formal education systems. With each new country that embeds their teaching in mainstream curricula, we anticipate a growing wave of change — one that prioritizes an approach to learning that is lifelong, technology-enabled and centered not on imparting knowledge, but on developing the skills needed to excel in as yet unheard-of jobs and industries.


The future of work poses challenges that access to education can’t solve. EY focuses on helping young people develop the mindsets and transferable skills they’ll need most to create, find and sustain meaningful work in a Transformative Age.

About this article

By Dan Gray

EY Global Corporate Responsibility Knowledge Leader

Purpose-driven strategist. Sustainability and social entrepreneurship advocate. Integrative thinker. Author. Storyteller. Rugby fanatic. Amateur chef. Giant.