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Why AI Will Open Up New Career Opportunities For Young People

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Why AI Will Open Up New Career Opportunities For Young People

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Between the aging labor force and new technology like ChatGPT, the future looks bright for young people just launching their careers.

It can be challenging to make heads or tails of the economy—especially if you’re a young person just getting ready to launch your career. Gloomy news one day can be followed by something hopeful the next. One thing that is clear is that new technology, such as generative artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT, promise to bring about massive changes in the coming years in ways we can’t even yet imagine.

While there is plenty of concern over the potential downsides about the widespread adoption of AI, its positive upsides, along with other workplace shifts we’ve witnessed because of the pandemic, might be overlooked. That’s especially true as it applies to the career prospects of the members of the younger generations.

“It’s an exciting time to be young and headed toward your first job,” says Ron Needham, SVP NA Sales & Marketing, ManpowerGroup. “Yes, there is some uncertainty in the economy. But equally, as we’ve seen since the first industrial revolution—massive change, while disruptive, provides remarkable opportunities for new jobs, for better careers that are more financially rewarding, and for work that is interesting.” 

Not only does Needham see the advent of technology like AI reshaping the workforce of the future the way the Internet did a generation ago, but he also believes that it has also opened up new career pathways for young people that don’t require a four-year degree.

I connected with Needham for an email interview where we discussed these shifting workforce dynamics and why he believes they signal that the traditional American Dream is very much alive.

A dynamic and shifting workplace

If history is any guide, Needham thinks we may be on the cusp of something truly remarkable in our lives, in our jobs and in our society. What he calls “Internet 3.0,” the advent of AI used in our everyday business and personal lives, will soon provide remarkable new opportunities.

Needham compares where we are today with AI to the way the Internet stood in its early stages back in the 1990s. “There were 130 websites in 1993,” he says. “Within 36 months there were over 100,000.” 

While we know that many of those dotcoms didn’t pan out, they helped open up countless new job opportunities for people who embraced learning new skill sets such as web developers, UX interface designers and Internet marketers.

Needham thinks that the advent of Internet 3.0 will bring about similar shifts in the kinds of jobs available for the workforce of the future.

“A decade from now there will be amazing jobs for folks close to graduating or just starting high school or college,” he says. “While the headlines seem to be focused on a world controlled by the robots, the reality is this could lift up the quality of people’s lives the way other massive shifts have lifted us up. When it comes to young workers thinking through their careers, seize the day! Step back, explore, then dive in.”

Rethinking traditional job requirements

When it comes to exploring new career opportunities like those created by Internet 3.0, employers are making a fundamental shift toward skills-based hiring.

“The notion that you absolutely MUST have a college degree to earn a good living and have a shot at the American Dream is being challenged in good ways,” says Needham. “Formalizing education was one of the ways we tried to ‘even the playing field’ in society. And it has done that to a great degree. But equally, it also created unintended consequences we are now dealing with.”

Needham acknowledges that the education one receives in college not only drives skills, but it also broadens thinking. But with the dramatic rise in the cost of pursuing a college degree, coupled with the weight of the accompanying student loan debt, has given many young people and their parents reasons to look at alternative training pathways. “The advent of alternative approaches to education is exciting,” says Needham.

For example, there are a growing number of online programs that job seekers can turn to in learning new skills like becoming a Salesforce Administrator or a master Microsoft Azure at their own pace.

Needham, whose firm works with the major Fortune 500 companies to fill openings from gaming testers to forklift drivers, says that there is now universal belief among business executives that there are many approaches to success—especially given that the labor force is aging, participation rates remain down and job openings remain outsized.

“There is absolutely a re-evaluation underway for jobs that shouldn’t require a four-year degree,” says Needham. “Businesses have to get creative to meet the needs of their customers. Reviewing job requirements is just one of those levers.”

The road less traveled

It’s not just technology or employers who are driving a shift in how young people approach obtaining the skills to kick off their careers. Students, parents and society are collectively re-evaluating the value of a four-year degree.

“This doesn’t suggest there isn’t tremendous value in a formal college education,” says Needham. “But, with online learning, discovering we can do more from our homes with Covid hitting a few years ago, taking a moment to really define ‘how do I want to live my life’ are all playing a role here. People are putting their values first—really reflecting on why they are pursuing college (or not), and what they want out of their education, life, and so forth.”

Needham suggests that every young person should take a step back and evaluate what they want out of life: Money? Family? Balance? All of the above? That should then become their baseline.

“When you rank order what you really want out of life it will help you narrow the focus to careers that map to those goals,” says Needham. He points out that there are so many careers people don’t consider, such as forest ranger, firefighter or electrician, all of which promise to have around 50,000 new job openings in the coming years.

“Working for Corporate America with a four-year degree doesn’t have to be your goal in life,” says Needham. ”As Robert Frost said: ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.’”

Another piece of advice Needham offers young job seekers is to leverage their strengths—especially when it comes to social media and their ability to use tech, AI and “how to” resources ranging from formal tech education platforms to social platforms like Reddit.

“Yes, I read about people that have applied to 100 jobs without response,” he says. “But also recognize that would have been impossible 20 years ago. So, step back and review the ‘how’ in your application process. And make those applications count.”

Pursuing a lifestyle of choice

A great lifestyle is defined differently by every person. To help young people crystallize their own educational paths, career choices and lifestyle aspirations, it’s important to get them thinking and talking about what they want their future to look like regardless of what the economy looks like today.

At the same time, we also must teach these young people that there are many on-ramps to achieving a successful life and living their own version of the American Dream. That’s never been truer than it is today—and that’s a wonderful thing.

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