Back in the 1960s there was an extraordinary energy among young people. It wasn’t just the Beatles and music scene, or the drugs (not that I personally ever smoked anything stronger than a woodbine), rather it was the post war era in which education and jobs were encouraged and available. And rather than following in our parents footsteps we were able to follow our dreams. And this was true right across the western world. As a “baby boomer” I accept I was privileged. I found a career in the early days of computing that allowed me grow with an emerging industry, to pursue work that captivated and motivated me throughout a long career that took me through numerous roles and allowed me to travel and work all around the world.
But I wonder today whether young people feel the same. It’s true there are huge opportunities opening up in climate and sustainability, but the pandemic has been tough on young people in so many ways making education and socialising really hard. At the same time there is growing concern that climate change will be a real disaster, orders of magnitude greater than the pandemic, and that getting all the advanced countries to address their emissions will be incredibility difficult. Are we leaving today’s generation a burning planet? Then just to add fuel to the fire, I see today that Elon Musk has announced he’s working on a humanoid robot which will be targeted at manual labour. And I recall he’s also working on a human computer interface! Even if his robots work as well as his self-driving cars, it’s still yet more evidence that the world of work is going to undergo huge change.
In fairness if we look back at the 20th century, if has to be said that there was unbelievable change. And that things weren’t that bad. So why should the 21st Century be any different? But it’s very true that the first two decades of this century has not treated everyone well. Lots of young people are doing work they are massively over qualified for. Employers such as Amazon are setting de facto standards of work that would have been made illegal in the last century. However unionisation has failed to take hold in many modern workplaces. And increasingly right wing governments haven’t cared. Also pressures on housing are ever increasing, and unlike us baby boomers, today’s youngsters find it harder to purchase a house.
I will fully accept that if I was say 18, or in my early twenties I would be nervous, worried and concerned about the future from all of these perspectives. Several young people have asked me the question, “What subjects should do, how do I prepare for what will probably be great change?” And my answer has always been stick to basics, maths, sciences, languages and critically just as important, get experience. See the world, but not as a tourist. Don’t stay too long in education, get out there and get experience and plan to keep learning formally and informally for your entire life.
I hold with this advice, but today in light of recent experience and events I would say that focusing on key areas of economic opportunity would be sensible such as energy production and distribution, ecology, advanced agriculture environments including regenerative organic and hydroponics, carbon capture, eco transport management, disaster management, water management and specifically flood management and relief. You get the idea. All of these fields are going to be huge growth areas.
However I would also counsel young people to travel in a purposeful way. Get out to Africa or Asia and get involved in all types of charitable or medical projects. Not just famine relief, although that’s important work, but consider also project management around shelter, water systems, broadband provision, agriculture as well as education. Increasingly there will be whole populations on the move, migrating away from areas that can no longer sustain life because of fire or drought and there’s going to be great work needed to help these efforts and guide against conflict.
I would like to see governments everywhere incentivising young people to get real experience either immediately before or after university or apprenticeship. Of course these project experiences must include appropriate education and mentorship in order to make the experience meaningful. Armies and navies have a huge part to play in this area. Whilst I wouldn’t advocate conscription, it would make sense to create real incentives to join one or two year programmes with the option to select the broad type of experience and learning involved.
Throughout my working life and into retirement I have continued learning. Today approaching my mid seventies I am working on my French language and horticulture skills. Life will always be a magical mystery tour. No one can predict the future. But we do need to help young people to be positive and constructive and to confront the challenges we face head on. So far, young people have mostly addressed the climate emergency as a protest group. No problem with that. But moving forward the younger generation needs to take charge, to ensure the world takes the right decisions and gets out of the mess we baby boomers have created.
I wish them luck.