How Can Parents Help Children Be Ready for Jobs That Don’t Even Exist Yet?

By Joanne Poh

Kids these days don’t have it easy. They feel so much pressure to get good grades in the PSLE and get into a good secondary school, all while learning coding, excelling in their CCA and figuring out what they want to specialise in when they go to uni.

To make things worse, according to a recent news article, Vivian Balakrishnan has terrifyingly exhorted that children must be ready for jobs ‘that do not yet exist’.

So how do kiasu parents decide if it’s better that Junior pursues the tried and tested path of becoming a doctor or lawyer, or if they should urge him to get a STEM degree? How can you do what’s best for your child when you can’t predict the future?

We obviously can’t tell you what jobs will be on the table 20 years from now. But the world of work is evolving, and parents can’t take the same approach their own parents did when they were at school. Here’s what might help to prepare kids for the working world, no matter what it looks like when they’re grown up.

Let your child choose a flexible career path

In the past, parents liked to force encourage their children onto clear-cut career paths. This usually meant getting a professional degree—law, dentistry, medicine, accountancy, engineering—in that order of preference.

A professional degree was seen as the best way to get a stable job that was viewed as more prestigious than the “executive” positions taken on by folks with general degrees.

While those days aren’t quite over, the tides are changing. Doctors, lawyers and accountants are now famous for having awful work-life balance, and with the pay for STEM grads rising, it seems a computer science degree is the new “it” qualification.

This year, local law schools saw a 17% to 22% drop in the number of applicants listing law as their first choice, while there was a 35% increase in the number of applicants listing computing as a first choice.

The career landscape is changing so fast that obtaining a general degree should no longer be viewed as inferior to obtaining a professional one. In fact, it enables graduates to be less vulnerable to sudden changes in the market—look what happened to the law graduates who’ve been affected by the glut of law grads and junior lawyers.

A broad-based education with more than one specialty could well lead to a more fulfilling career path, enabling students to explore more than one interest and concentrate on developing competencies in their areas of interest, rather than being corralled into one fixed vocation.

Emphasise the importance of practical experience

So many Singaporeans have degrees that it is now the bare minimum required in many fields, not something that distinguishes you from the other faceless grads all applying for the same position.

What distinguishes one candidate from another is the amount of relevant experience he has—yes, even as a fresh grad, who up till graduation has, it is assumed, been a full-time student.

Unfortunately, tertiary students are now caught up in an internships arms race. I’ve seen people graduate from uni with more than ten internships on their CVs. which is a little extreme.

But internships aren’t the only way to pick up practical skills, nor are they the most impressive, since everyone and their dog now graduates with a few internships under their belt.

Students are increasingly being expected to take on passion projects, do volunteer work, have a kickass online portfolio and so on. Parents should encourage their kids to get their hands dirty and learn outside of the classroom, rather than focus only on scoring As.

Understand that following one’s interests is more valuable than ever now

Clearly, good grades aren’t worth that much these days. While truly terrible grades will certainly limit your options in life, if As are the only thing you’ve got, you’ll be in trouble.

The strict Singaporean parent who expects his kid to become a heart surgeon needs to back down and allow him to pursue his interests.

The nature of work is changing, and to succeed one really needs to embrace lifelong learning and go beyond the textbooks. We’ve all heard those horror stories of the NUS computing students who did nothing but pass exams, and graduated with barely-passable skills. Don’t let your kid become one of them.

Help your kid cultivate good communication skills

Singaporean kids spend so much time in tuition that their communication and social skills take a back seat. Adult Singaporeans don’t read for leisure, and it shows in the rather simplistic, clumsy way many people (and even some politicians) speak and write.

So what can parents who want their children to grow up with good communication skills do? The answer is NOT to sign them up for some communication enrichment class. It’s to encourage them to read for pleasure from an early age.

When they are older, try to avoid discouraging them from taking humanities subjects or force them into the pure science stream if that’s not where their interests lie. From a kiasu point of view, the humanities might be harder to score in, but due to the bell curve those who have a flair for such subjects can still do well.

Jobs candidates of the future are going to be expected to be able to communicate well in both a local and international setting. Employees will be expected to use language not just in a perfunctory manner, but persuasively. And Singaporeans will need to become much better communicators if they want to get noticed amidst a glut of international competitors both at home and abroad.

This article was first published over at MoneySmart blog on 11 July 2017. It is reproduced with permission.

About The Author (Joanne Poh)

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.


PSLE results doesn't determine your future, you determine your future

The pursuit of a degree does not make sense anymore!

"If you don’t study hard, you will become a ______________ when you grow up"