Skills versus Jobs


There is a good article in today's Globe and Mail by the president and CEO of Royal Bank of Canada on a topic that is good reading for any parent - and a worthwile reflection for any of us who have to deal with both skills and jobs.

When I was finishing university, and trying to choose whether to continue with graduate work in English language and literature or become a secondary school teacher, my father's advice was "Be a teacher.  You'll never make much money but you'll always have a job".  As it turned out he was wrong on both counts.

My father was someone worth listening to in terms of his own career.  His own father died in 1916 when he was only 16 and the last child of a large family.  He went to work in the munitions plant in the nearly town of Nobel and dreamed of becoming a chemist like his brother-in-law, but also felt responsible for helping his mother financially.  Good at math, he became the town clerk of Parry Sound in his 20's and later the City Treasurer in Kitchener, then a mid sized industrial city.  With its twin city, Waterloo, the pair were home to several Canadian insurance companies and he was recruited to join one of them as assistant general manager as its 13th employee.  From there he went on to become general manager,  president and CEO and ultimately chairman of the board. 

I did become a secondary school teacher and married soon after., abandoning the dream of going to Yale. Over the next 20 years, we had four children and I also had several teaching jobs - and of course became redundant when the high school student population evaporated, because I had not stayed with the same school board but had moved and taught in several communities. 

Like many of my contemporary out-of-work teachers, I became an arts administrator in an era when there was no professional accreditation for such a job.  "We used to ask our colleages, "So what did you used to teach?"  All we knew was how to organize and be ready for whatever happened tomorrow.  We were mentored by colleagues who had done it longer and over the next decade universities woke up and created MBAs in Arts Management.  I was soon redundant again but not unhappy about it -  this time I took some additional skills along learned on the job - writing, editing, fundraising, conference planning, touring, concert production - all learned in depth over eight years.

They were useful in the next "job" which was actually a series of consulting projects involving creation of new arts facilities - finding the financial resources to make them happen, building the governance and operating structures, marketing - and assessing feasibility and operating plans.  But since these were not "jobs" but contracts, I also became a software vendor of a tool that mapped and organized ideas and plans.  This made me work more in the digital as well as the real world and I still feel quite bi-cultural - even though the new digital wolrd is both exciting and daunting.

AI and the Internet of Things have been around for a while and if Globe readers are just waking up to them, they are in trouble.  Like me, two of my working sons have had several disruptive careers rather than jobs -  another still continues to teach at a university, though not in the field he pursued at a graduate level.   There will be lots of work going forward - but not the secure job that leads to be chairman of the board. 

The Globe's writer cites a collection of "C" words - critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, core skills, competency - as the skills for today and tomorrow in the changing landscape.  Acquiring these starts long before people enter the workplace.   I'm glad that RBC is starting :Future Launch" that omits the resume and will actually pay interns.  But creating work in future generations starts with how we embody attitudes toward about whatever our age and stage. The kids will be all right if they have good mentors.