The workplace is ever-changing. Employers are demanding increasing flexibility, adaptability, short-term contracts, and project-based work. Workers are increasingly demanding job security, higher wages, and better work conditions.

Both from the supply and demand side of the work equation, we are experiencing very challenging times ahead for both employers and workers within the context of increasing business competition, automation, and ageing population.

Unfortunately, this gap will only increase over time in the future.

Without a doubt, there will be more over-qualified job seekers and graduates going after fewer available job vacancies due mainly to automation and ageing population. As a result, more young people especially will increasingly be forced into spending more time in higher education.

In the process of acquiring more head knowledge, they will also be incurring more student loan debts that will weigh them down financially (and socially) for most of their lives, causing them financial stress. This has also increased mental health issues experienced by many young people.

On paper, unfortunately, all college or university graduates will look the same. This creates tremendous competition and under-employment among younger job seekers trying to enter the job market.

Apart from spending time and money on their education, many young people will graduate without acquiring the right employable (job-ready) and practical skills and experience that employers are desperately seeking to give businesses the competitive edge over other businesses. This includes making more money or saving money.

In response to a very competitive business environment, employers are constantly restructuring and practising just-in-time hiring and contracting. They are increasing their use of short-term skilled workers or contractors as and when the need arises without the headaches of fixed overheads and permanent workforces. This gives employers the business flexibility to pivot and adapt to the ever-changing customer needs and competitors actions.

The use of temporary workers and automation will continue to put downward pressure on salaries and wages. There will not be much salary growth as under-employed workers will be forced to take on shorter-term or lower-paying jobs just to pay their bills and survive. Salary ‘growth’ will be on a downward trend.

The rise of temporary, part-time or self-employment will significantly decrease the need for on-going full-time employment. Job security is dead unless workers can continuously adapt and future-proof themselves. Being future-ready and job-ready are the keys to future job security for all workers.

To be hired, workers, contractors, and freelancers must constantly upgrade their skills, experience, and value-creation and giving. They must respond positively to the constantly evolving needs and requirements of employers as businesses attempt to meet the profitability goals for their stakeholders. This is the only way to keep workers in employment for longer periods. Without paying customers, there will not be jobs.

Many school leavers don’t really know what they want to do in the future. This is understandable. As a result, an increasing proportion will make a job or career change, change their field of studies, or even drop out of colleges and universities altogether. They need our help to minimise any negative impact on their future.

Just-in-time continuous learning through flexible short courses (online virtual learning and offline bricks and mortar), and continuous on-the-job learning and training will become a norm as new skills and job titles are being constantly created to keep up with advances in technology, evolving business models, and organisational restructures.

The role and relevance of colleges and universities in preparing our future generations for work and employment must be scrutinised and debated. These organisations must respond to the ever-changing need of the demand side of the work equation because graduates and young people are using less than half of what they have learned in universities at work.

The half-life of knowledge is also decreasing. Technology and innovation are generating significant amounts of data. Jobs like data scientist have emerged. And more new job titles will emerge in the future.

As jobs are constantly being transformed through increasing automation and intense business competition, the traditional just-in-case method of learning and teaching will eventually fade away as people will only need to acquire and learn the required skill and knowledge as and when it is required by the employer for completing the work at hand. Let us not bother about the future now because we don’t know what future skills will be required.

Automation will constantly transform or eliminate jobs and careers. Tasks within the jobs and skills needed to perform jobs will look very different in five years, or shorter.

Many students and school leavers will end up working in completely new job types that have yet to exist while they are school or university. Skills learned today will be redundant tomorrow.

As lower-level jobs and tasks are constantly being automated or transformed with advanced technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence, new job titles, work processes, and industries will be innovated and created across nearly every economic sector. The negative impact on workers will be huge as this could mean massive unemployment for many workers.

With every danger, there will be opportunities. This will force people to constantly acquire above-average education, training, and experience just to keep up.

Many people will have to shift to higher-skilled jobs away from the manual or physical work as they are replaced by robots.

To do this shift and transformation well, students and young people will have to increase their capability and capacity to perform well even while at school, college or university. They must aspire to gain relevant employable but transferable skills and experience by doing voluntary work, internships, or even taking a gap year straight after school.

This could also apply to workers who need to constantly transform or reinvent themselves with future-ready, job-ready skills, experience, and knowledge.

Apart from having work-related and technological skills that could be transferred to other jobs, there will also be growing emphasis on soft skills (e.g., social and emotional skills), and enterprise or higher cognitive skills (i.e., problem-solving, communication, teamwork, creativity, etc.) and life skills as interaction with technology and machines become more prevalent.

Humans will have to specialise in areas where robots and machines don’t have a competitive edge over humans. For example, understanding human emotions or creating and sustaining meaningful social and human interactions.

College or university graduates who can’t secure their first job because they do not have the relevant vocational and practical work skills and experience in their job of choice upon graduating are forced to take on short-term jobs that are totally unrelated to their field of study. They will subsequently de-skill themselves, wasting their time and money on acquiring a worthless piece of paper from a university.

Many lacked the necessary interview and job application skills to be able to attain full-time work or jobs of their choice.

Unfortunately, young job seekers will be five times more likely to remain unemployed after five years of graduation when compared to those who were not underemployed in their first job.

Some will eventually not use what they have learned at colleges and universities. Most likely, they will struggle financially to pay off their student loans for the most part of their lives. They don’t earn enough money to survive and save enough money for a house and car especially due to low or no salary growth. Inflation and higher cost of living will just erode what they can earn.

The social impact of under-employed over-qualified graduates will be increasing if nothing drastic is done to minimise and manage these challenges for young people.

For over-qualified graduates, they can remain under-employed for a very long time. Under-employment of over-qualified graduates will be problematic for many countries especially when job vacancies are fast diminishing with an increasing number of young people coming into the job market.

On a positive note, degree holders in most STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are less likely to be under-employed. If they can find jobs, they will earn more money than non-college graduates. They may need to be willing to move to other locations and countries to find the right kind of work.

Jobs specialisation will be another key feature for the future of work. Generalist will find it harder to secure a job in the future. Employers are looking for specialists to solve complex problems as the world gets more complex with technology and innovation.

What is needed is a better course and career guidance for students and school leavers. This will minimise any misalignment between their job and career aspirations and educational intention. Over- or under-qualification of graduates must be proactively managed so that students are not overburdened with unnecessary study debts due to the ever-increasing cost of education and living.

It is not surprising that many young people will increasingly struggle with modern-day living. They will increasingly experience mental health conditions and stresses. They will require resources and assistance to mitigate.

To speed up the transition into full-time employment, besides having a positive mindset, school leavers should actively consider future-proofed employment types like being carers (i.e., nursing, social workers), technologist (i.e., software engineers, web administrator, ICT business analysts), or informers (i.e., teachers, policy analysts, event organisers).

The ‘know-who’ factor is also relevant in finding and securing jobs as many job vacancies are not advertised but filled via personal contacts and through networking. This is where parents and adults can play an active role in assisting young people to get their foothold into the job market. Networking can be a foreign concept to young people who are constantly interacting with technology and mobile devices rather than people.

The shift to jobs requiring high skills (i.e., professionals) and high touch (i.e., community and personal services) will only become more intense in coming years as more and more jobs and tasks are transformed or replaced by technology and automation. These are the skills that graduates (and job seekers) must constantly acquire to make them job-ready and future-ready.

It is more instructive to examine which jobs rely on skill sets that machines are unable to replicate because it is these jobs that will be most resilient and future-proof in terms of their requirement for uniquely human labour.