Six million jobs are disappearing...

Ahead of a Network Cork event, next Wednesday, celebrating outstanding women in business, MARTINA O’DONOGHUE talks to one of the key speakers
Six million jobs are disappearing...
Dr. Helen Raftery, CEO of Junior Achievement Ireland (JAI).

IT’S a scary thought: 65% of the jobs for which we will hire the next generation do not even exist today.

So how do we future-proof our careers and ensure that our services will still be required in time to come? It’s a question to be addressed at a discussion organised by Griffith College and Network Cork next Wednesday, May 8, celebrating Outstanding Women in Business.

Among the women on the panel will be Dr Helen Raftery, CEO of Junior Achievement Ireland (JAI), pictured right.

“Six million jobs are disappearing, to be replaced by AI (Artificial Intelligence) but in that time 15 million jobs will be developed”, she says.

The rapidly changing nature of our future workplace is a challenging concept for today’s students to get their young heads around. The organisation she heads up is doing tremendous work in reaching out to students, encouraging them to remain in education and helping them develop the skills they need to succeed in a changing world.

JAI — established in Ireland in 1996 — is part of a worldwide organisation bringing entrepreneurship education right into the classroom, and straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak. What makes it unique is that it is not taught by teachers but rather by volunteers from a wide selection of businesses.

JAI, with a staff of 30, has created successful partnerships with around 200 leading organisations which release 3,000 staff to reach over 60,000 students each year.

Among the Cork-based organisations involved in volunteering staff are Alcon Laboratories, Stryker Ireland, DELL EMC, KPMG, Musgrave, Johnson Controls, Gas Networks Ireland, Janssen, AIB, BNY Mellon and Cork City Council, while there’s been a wide spread of benefiting schools including ones in Fermoy, Midleton, Bandon, Cobh, Buttevant, Skibbereen and Kanturk, as well as several in the city.

Helen explains: “We use volunteers from the world of work to deliver a five or six week programme; around 40 minutes per week. We equip the volunteers with all the materials and everything they need for every minute they are with the students. We have organisations join us as members and we charge the companies for the time we spend training their staff. We are normalising the world of work for students, especially in families where generations of people are out of the workplace and children are hearing at home how to use the welfare system. If you don’t have positive influences you are influenced only by that frame of reference.”

Inevitably, some students will have the mistaken belief that the world of work is not for them but the JAI volunteers can turn around that thinking. Helen recounts a story of how a volunteer from CPL Recruitment arrived in his Audi to a school in Tallaght, to be told by one of the students, “Well it’s alright for you, driving in here in your Audi”, to which the volunteer replied, “I sat where you are sitting; I went to school here”.

The message was clear: anyone can be successful in following their dream, regardless of where they start out from. And that message is more likely to be absorbed when coming from someone other than a parent or teacher.

Helen talks about the Role Model Effect: “With the way we learn and develop, a child is very influenced by people in his immediate vicinity, copying stuff he sees, mainly in the family circle. In the teenage years the circle widens and he becomes very committed to being the same as his peers. With the volunteers, they are listening to those individuals exactly because they are not a parent or teacher. Even if we have other people coming in from the world of work saying the same thing as teachers it reinforces the message. A volunteer working with a young person can become a person that the youngster wants to emulate.”

One of the many examples she has of the impact ‘non-teachers’ can have on young people, comes from Newstalk journalist Sean Defoe. It was when RTÉ’s Tommie O’Gorman visited his school that the young Sean — then a sixth year student — decided he could “make a career out of talking”, and abandoned prior thoughts of becoming an architect or nautical engineer. JAI works with both primary and secondary schools and also collaborated for the first time this year on a pilot project with the Education Training Board (ETB), going into five further education training colleges in Cork, helping mature students with the Enabling Entrepreneurship programme, tackling issues like negotiation and confidence.

“When you’ve been out of the education system for a while chances are your confidence isn’t 100 per cent and the older we get the more risk adverse we become”, says Helen.

“Alan Kingston from Glenilen Farm worked with students from Cork College of Commerce, telling them the important thing is to know their strengths and weaknesses and never give up. Working with the ETB, we had a great alignment between industry and education. We need to do more of that.”

Volunteers come from all kinds of backgrounds, including engineering, financial and legal. They’ve even had rocket scientists on the programme.

So what does it take to be a good volunteer for JAI?

“The best volunteers are often the ones who’ve done a few mad twists and turns along the way. If you’re a student sitting with your peers you can be convinced you are the only one who doesn’t know what you want to do. So if that person (the business volunteer) shares with you that they didn’t go to third level until they were 26 and that they went to Australia because they didn’t know what they wanted to do, that can be very reassuring, as people are feeling under pressure to put something on the CAO form.”

It’s fair to say Helen has had a few twists in her own career path, initially qualifying as a teacher of English and PE; subsequently teaching in her native Galway for three years, before taking management roles with Basketball Ireland, the Irish Sports Council and the Football Association of Ireland. She’s been in her present role with JAI since 2012. Furthermore, her educational journey has been constant, with qualifications from the University of Limerick, Loughborough University, Trinity College Dublin, Queen’s University Belfast and U.C.D.

“The rate of change is speeding up so much. Before you’d leave school and that would be the end of your learning but not now. Now you have to be a life-long learner”, she says.

However, Helen can also see limitations in the current educational system, particularly at secondary level.

“If you look at the education system at senior cycle, something’s not quite right. We’re assessing students on the ability to do exams. If you get an A1 in Maths and a D2 in English it is not a measure of how equipped you are for adulthood”, she says.

“In primary school, kids are working in small teams, working on projects. They’ll go home and say, ‘This is what I learned today’; they’re developing communication skills. But then in secondary school, everyone is sitting in rows. But working on projects and in teams is the way most of us will work in the future.”

She quotes Albert Enstein when talking about the exam-oriented education system: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

She also feels it’s a shame that many young people, especially girls, drop their sporting activities once they turn 13 due to the pressures of academic life, even though there are advantages to being what she calls a ‘scholar athlete’. “They are excellent time managers. They have their bags ready, their kit bag for camogie next to their school bag. They are better equipped for life. Those other interests are so important.”

Which gets us back to the original question — how do we prepare people for a future that is difficult to foresee?

JAI believes the following to be the top in-demand skills in the future, regardless of the nature of the job:

1. Growth Mindset

2. Strategic Thinking

3. Self-empowerment

4. Leadership Skills

5. Compassion & Empathy

6. Communication Skills

7. Learning agility

8. Customer Centricity

9. Data driven decision making

Helen elaborates: “People need to be able to communicate effectively with each other. Now with screens and the virtual world, people are losing empathy. Even if you’re not naturally empathetic let’s practice those skills. People talk about Soft Skills now, as though they are the opposite of being hard and firm, but I heard a speaker say, ‘let’s change it and call it Essential Skills’. You must have the self-esteem and confidence to set a goal and map out a way to get there. And even if you get knocked back, go again. And get help and expertise when you need it.”

Joining Dr. Helen Raftery on the panel at Griffith College Cork, talking about Future Proofing Your Career, will be Áine Mc Manus, Head of the Graduate Business School at Griffith College; Remi Kolawole, Senior Software Quality Analyst at Snap-on Diagnostics; and Fine Gael County Councillor Susan McCarthy.

Meanwhile, another discussion topic will be Managing Pressure in Your Role, with guest speakers Alpa Agrawal, CEO/ Founder of Allmin Resources Ltd; Zara King, News Reporter on Virgin Media; Alison Mc Sweeney, VP Senior Incident Response at BNY Mellon; and Linda Mellerick, CFO and Director of Operations at SELC Ltd. The event will run from 6pm to 8pm at Griffith College and can be booked through Eventbrite.

For more on JAI see

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