Special thanks to my niece who inspired a blog post on a particularly difficult Monday morning.

This weekend my 13 year old niece was really worried.  Not about the things a 13 year old should be worried about...graduation dresses, year-end parties, sports championships, or shopping trips, but about what career she would be pursuing in her adult years.  Her grade 8 teacher had told her class that they needed to decide what career they wanted to pursue by the end of their grade 9 year to ensure they were taking the correct classes.  As we sat around my in-laws’ living room, every adult chuckled that, as 30 and 40 year olds, we would let her know what we wanted to be when we grew up, as soon as we decided.  On a more serious note, as a CHRP-designated human resources professional and President of an Internet company that runs job sites, I thought more about what career advice I would give to my toddler son and pre-school daughter when they reach their upper school years.  I was at a loss.

Surely we need to prepare ahead.  Will we take science courses or social science courses to ensure we have the pre-requisites to enter our desired university programs?  I already knew in Grade 9 that I would not likely be pursuing a degree in science or math.  Neither were my favourite subjects, and therefore, I found that I had to work much harder to obtain marks that were lower than what I achieved in my favourite subjects – History, English, Social Science.  It was pretty clear to me that I would not be pursuing a career in engineering or biology.  I did not enjoy studying those subjects so how would I possibly pursue a career in them?  So, yes we know early on what areas in which we excel, and those should be our target goal.  Why take courses in chemistry when you know that you will likely apply to university arts and science programs?  However, beyond that, at 13 years of age, any future preparation is futile.  Here’s why.

My generation, Generation X, has had the unfortunate experience of entering a work world that looked dramatically different from the one we inhabit now.  In the late 1990s, the auto industry was still booming, and we hadn’t lost our entire manufacturing sector yet.  The trades still had lots of licensed tradesmen in their prime working years.  Off-shoring was not yet sending engineering, IT, legal and service work to Southeast Asia.  Canadian companies were not yet importing contract employees from India to replace Canadian workers.  Public sectors weren’t grappling with record levels of debt requiring cuts to jobs and benefits.  No one had yet predicted that the retired demographic would overtake the working demographic which, combined with a declining birth rate, will create an unprecedented shortage of working people and school-aged children.  Industries that were thriving and demanding workers then are now contracting, or even worse, disappearing.  Occupations now exist that could have never been predicted.  We know all too well how early preparation, although admirable, may not be a predictor of what your life will look like 10-15 years down the road.  It is widely assumed that the top in demand jobs in 2030 don't exist yet.  In my case, on the day I graduated from the University of Toronto, my job hadn’t yet even been conceived. 

In 1998, my last year of university, the Internet was in its infancy.  I have a distinct memory of visiting a far flung corner of UofT to use one of the few public computers on campus so that I could see what “the Internet” was.  Remember when people referred to it as the “Information Superhighway”?  As I peered at the screen, there was no way I could have predicted that, 15 years later, my entire job would be focussed on the Internet.   To be honest, I didn’t even really know what I was looking at.  Since then technology has changed so dramatically, and quickly, that even my 20 month old son tries to swipe the screen on my 2010 Macbook.  He has no idea that there was once a time, just a few years ago, when you could not touch a computer screen.  Predictions forecast an even faster rate of technological advancement in the coming years.  Now it appears my job will be changing yet again; its focus moving from the web to mobile.

So with all this change and uncertainty, what is my advice to 13 year olds, and grown-ups, around the world who are charting their future career paths?  

  • Get as much education as you can at the highest level you can in a field that you enjoy studying.  If you are going to university, there is a good chance you will work afterward in a field that you did not study as part of your degree, and that's OK
  • Recognize that you will likely have to continue your education throughout your working life in the way of specialized programs or designations
  • Focus on being as financially secure as you can in your early career so that you can take the risks necessary to pursue a great career.  No big debts aside from student or business loans!
  • Develop your leadership skills
  • Learn to have an entrepreneurial spirit, regardless of whether or not you ever own a business
  • Be resilient.  Your ability to pick yourself up and brush yourself off when you fall will serve you well
  • According to Confucious, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”.  Made sense then and it makes sense now
  • Realize that many years down the road you will still feel like you have no clue

What would you say to your 13 year old self if you could go back in time?  Let us know on Twitter @insuranceworkCA