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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008, 08:13 GMT
Jobs for the children of globalisation
By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website, Davos

father reading to son
What do you want to be when you are grown up?

Ever wondered what career advice you should give to your child?

After all, this is the age of globalisation.

Jobs are outsourced and off-shored. Factories are taken apart, shipped out and rebuilt - nuts and bolts and all - in China.

Once upon a time the solution seemed to be straightforward. "Move up the value chain," we were told. Get high-tech skills and let cheap workers in developing countries get their hands dirty.

Apart from the fact that his advice never quite worked for many people in manufacturing jobs, it's also out-of-date.

These days engineers in China, India and elsewhere are just as qualified and innovative as those in Silicon Valley or Silicon Glen.

Designers in South Korea can be just as hip and cutting edge as those in Turin or Toronto.

'No clue'

But if you are worried about your children's future, you are not alone.

The millionaires and billionaires attending last week's World Economic Forum in Davos are just as concerned about their offspring.

child in school
Can schools prepare children for the globalised world?
A lunchtime session called "What Job Should My Child Take in a Globalizing Economy?" was completely booked out, filled with mothers and fathers at a loss of what to do.

However, those hoping for clear answers were quickly disappointed.

"Don't tell your child to be an engineer or be this or that, because we have no clue where future jobs will be," warned one participant.

"The world is developing so rapidly, whichever job you recommend now will be out-of-date by the time they are out of university," another chimed in. And all agreed that the notion of a lifelong job with the same company was obsolete.

Still, the discussions at each table of 10 seemed to reach the same conclusions.

Down the wire

Some jobs would be safe because they depended on "personal relations", for example in industries like health, education and care for the elderly.

But even there one had to differentiate, said one participant. "The job of a nurse is more secure than that of a radiologist," she argued, "because the x-ray image can be sent down a wire for analysis to any place in the world."

"Essentially, any service job that can be transported down a wire is insecure."

The right skills

So instead of recommending a certain profession, parents should ensure that their children learn the right skills that prepare them for this world of uncertainty.

"As parents we have to get our children to globalise as quickly as possible," said a prominent politician.

But what does that mean? Around the room, the same set of skills was mentioned again and again: Ensure your children

  • have language skills;
  • are good communicators;
  • know how to negotiate;
  • have people skills;
  • can understand and appreciate other cultures.
When you send your children abroad, said a top manager at one of the world's best-known investment banks, don't let them take soft options like travelling to the UK or Italy. "They should learn about countries like China or South Africa."

Such options are, of course, not open to and affordable by everyone.

Anyway, one participant said, what about the many unskilled and semi-skilled workers of this world - where does that leave them?

Protecting their jobs against cheaper and more qualified competitors wouldn't work, argued the banker: "It would be politically easy to protect these jobs, but 10 years down the line it will come back to bite you... it's the consumers and shareholders and pension funds who will lose out."

Instead "we need to do a better job of re-skilling" our workforce, he said.

Suffering from affluenza

Whether we were millionaires, politicians, academics or humble reporters at the tables, the discussions quickly resembled parenting workshops, with mothers and fathers swapping stories of bringing up their (at times) wayward children.

Chinese scientist looking through a microscope
A high-tech career is no guarantee for a secure job

Whichever country the parents came from - France, USA, Russia, Germany, Lebanon, UK - they worried about the quality of their children's schools.

"Are our schools still competitive enough to teach our children what they need for life?," asked one of them.

Their biggest worry, though, was motivation.

Most people here were self-made millionaires and natural over-achievers. They had learned hard, worked hard, but their children just did not have the same drive and ambition.

One could call it affluenza - the illness of being born rich.

"Children with rich parents are simply lacking motivation," complained one parent.

The multi-billionaire at our table was nodding in agreement.

"My solution is simple," he said. "I've told my son that when he's 18 years old, he'll get one million dollars."

"Then he's on his own, the rest goes to charity."

Coming from a billionaire, this is tough love.

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