21st Century Careers – A guide for Young People


It may be difficult to predict what the workers of the next decade will need to know and be able to do to achieve success in the workplace. However, in the context of greater uncertainty and rapid changes arising from global trends, it is almost certain that they will need well developed ‘21st Century Skills’ to ensure they are able to engage with and capitalize on technological change.

The 21st-century skills are by no means new. While there may not be an agreed set of the aforementioned required but broadly they tend to include both cognitive and non- cognitive skills particularly problem solving, critical thinking, digital literacy, collaboration, and communication.

This in recent years has brought into the consciousness of educators to explore whether they need to be explicitly taught, included in academic content standards and routinely assessed, and the extent to which these skills are subject-specific or transferrable.

Young graduates are all looking with great excitement and energy to the day when we can leave school and venture into the great world where their dreams can be pursued and be independent of parents, teachers and the burden of being labeled as a child. 

Planning a career requires that a job seeker determine a discipline that he/she is passionate about, understand current national/regional/global trends and the implication for the particular discipline, then acquire the necessary skills and experience around that discipline to gain competence and position him/herself for opportunities.

However, from the outset and to avoid needless mistakes, there is a need for a thorough understanding of the world of work through the ability to distinguish between the following interwoven terms- Job—Occupation—Career

  • Job
  • Occupation
  • Career

Job A job is defined as a paid position involving a specific place and time and specific tasks set by an employer. A job is often temporary. Researching findings show that after the age of 25, a person changes jobs an average of 10 to 15 times throughout his or her lifetime.

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Occupation An occupation is a specific set of skills that requires special training, education, or experience. People in an occupation may consider their occupation as a job or a career.

What then is a Career? Career is a sequence of positions occupied by a person during the course of a lifetime. It is described as a lifetime work history or long-term participation in a particular field. The average adult changes careers between five and eight times from age 25 until the end of working. 

The need for conscious choice cannot be over-emphasized if the desire is to have a successful career. This conscious choice can be achieved through adequate counseling or advice from parents, relatives, or experts in sessions organized for would-be graduates, etc.

A Career or a Job?

  • You may choose a job based on its location and pay rather than on the fact that you will like the job in the long run.
  • Liking a career is very important because your career path will affect all aspects of your life.
  • The closer your career is to your talents and passions, the more satisfied you will be with your career.

Youths entering the world of work, therefore, need to understand that certain factors must be considered in the choice of a career towards ensuring success. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. 

Such factors include the following: 

  1. Overall life goals
  2. Look at each choice or step as it contributes to your overall goal
  3. Be willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term benefits
  4. Think carefully about becoming too specialized
  5. Portable knowledge & skills
  6. Networking

Trends Shaping the Career Future

a) Globalization: Pressure from global competition and other factors resulted in over many companies falling off Fortune 500 the list. These were replaced largely by new global entrants and technology companies.

b) Demographic Skills: Millennials are now the largest generation in the workplace in most countries, and their voices, connected through social media, will increasingly alter the workplace culture.

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c) Explosion of Data: That data will be in the form of content from the past that can be readily structured into a database, and will also increasingly include unstructured data such as that found in social media.

d) Emerging Technologies:  New technologies such as the use of robots are coming up because of the aging population, for example, Japan is on the leading edge of using robots in service roles.   

e) Artificial Intelligence (AI): Undoubtedly the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to be the next big thing in the modern world. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is described as a technology that is capable of actions and behaviors that require intelligence when done by humans. Artificial Intelligence is becoming a popular field in computer science as it has improved human life in many areas. Artificial Intelligence is described as machine intelligence in the language of computer science. It contrasts natural intelligence. It associates with human minds and helps in solving problems and learning. Artificial Intelligence is aptly called the science and technology that helps to create intelligent machines and computer programs. Currently, developments in AI are one of a number of interrelated trends changing the nature of the labour markets across the world.  It understands human intelligence. It connects the real world with the virtual world. It makes intelligent decisions and makes accurate predictions. Nowadays AI Robots can do everything the same as humans can do. The implication of this is that in some climes, younger generations are already facing a labor market with less permanency or certainty in opportunities as a result of AI, this situation will be more pronounced in the nest one to two decades.  

f) Climate change: Allowing employees to work virtually reduces the need for facilities and helps organizations minimize their carbon footprints.

g) Redefined jobs: The nature of how work gets done is rapidly shifting. Even the lines between workday and personal time are blurring, since work and personal time blend and overlap. Work is no longer a place, but a thing as virtual offices is trending across the globe.

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h) Complexity: Organizations that can streamline and simplify structures, processes, systems, and cultures will have a competitive advantage in the future. At the individual level, the need to master this complexity and balance competing for demands is also on the increase. 

The P-A-T-H to Success

There are some factors that form the path to success in any career which are Passion, Attitude, and Heart.

Passion- Following your passions with strong determination is the first step on your path to success. It refers to the strong, positive feelings you experience while enjoying something. It means being good at something does not always mean you enjoy it. Therefore, it is imperative that youths begin to identify career-related passions by thinking about what makes you happy.

Attitude- Choosing a positive attitude is the second step on your path to success.

  • Attitude refers to the way you feel about something.
  • Enthusiasm and the belief that you can excel make up a positive attitude.

Talents- Determining and developing your talents make up the third step on your path to success.

  • Talents are natural strengths and abilities.
  • Choosing a career that matches your talents will help you expand your strengths to create your career path.

Heart- Finding your heart is the fourth step on your path to success.

  • Heart refers to what you believe is important to your life choices.
  • What are your values?
  • Who and what are important influences in your life?

Final Thoughts

In the words of Wanda Skyes, “If you feel there is something out there that you are supposed to be doing if you have a passion for it, then stop wishing and just do it”.

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