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Students walk between classes at the College of Southern Nevada Charleston Campus on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Photo by Jeff Scheid.

By Manny Lamarre

A few weeks ago, I sat on a panel with some local leaders in Southern Nevada as part of the Summer Business Institute’s Government Day. During the panel discussion, a student asked a thoughtful question on workforce. The student wanted to know how to prepare for tomorrow’s workforce, what industries should she be aware of and what she can do to ensure a meaningful standard of living.

At the time, I rattled some thoughts that came to mind, but the thoughtfulness and nuance of the student’s questions required a richer response and continued reflection.

So, what can young people do to prepare for a meaningful and prosperous career in a rapidly changing labor market? Although no one can predict the future, there are some well-understood insights every young person (and even seasoned adults) should keep in mind as they prepare to engage in the New Nevada economy and beyond.

As you pursue your passion, build concrete skills.

The mantra of – “follow your passion” is insufficient and slightly misleading. Yes – one should always follow his or her passion. However, as you follow your passion, reflect on the skills you want to build or sell and be intentional about developing those skills. Whether you are an entrepreneur or working for an established organization, people will pay you for your skills. Passion and skills are not mutually exclusive, but passion and skills cannot be divorced from each other. Very few people would accept a passionate nurse, plumber, software developer, welder, attorney, or small business owner who did not have the adequate skills to support the passion. Building concrete skills is mandatory for the workforce. Skills pay the bills; passion puts joy into your actions. 

As you build skills, do not forget about the basics. The same skills you learned in elementary school in the playground such as teamwork, being kind, and problem solving are the same skills you need as an adult in the workplace. Use these skills to build relationships and networks across different groups. At the moment, robots aren’t as emotionally intelligent or as good at building relationships as humans. The saying your “network” is your “net worth” will remain true. You also will always need basic writing and critical thinking and reading for comprehension skills – depending on your career path you will need a lot more than the basics.

Engage in work-based learning ASAP!

Work-based learning provides opportunities to connect education to the workplace. Work-based learning is a continuum that can be an internship, fellowship, on-the-job training, or registered apprenticeship. For students under the working age, work-based learning can be in the form of a job shadow or a guest speaker.

There are many benefits to work-based learning. Work-based learning can inform you on what you like and do not like and save you thousands of dollars in the process. For example, when I was younger, I always wanted to be an attorney, more specifically a criminal prosecutor. However, one summer during my undergraduate career I engaged in a work-based learning program at the Florida attorney general’s office and realized quickly that wasn’t my path. For starters most cases don’t go to trial and they are not how I saw them in episodes of “Law and Order.” I later engaged in a more policy-based work-based learning and realized I enjoyed policy a lot more. I saved thousands of dollars by skipping law school even though I disappointed some family members. Work-based learning is also valuable because it allows you to start building skills and relationships you will need to navigate the workplace. During that internship, I improved my critical thinking, writing and listening skills and expanded my network in ways that continue to be valuable.

Registered Apprenticeships are a form of work-based learning that is a gold standard for workforce success, especially for young people or adults without advanced skills. Apprenticeships allow you to earn as you learn. Apprentices come in without skills but receive training from experts and mentors while receiving a paycheck, education and an industry-recognized credential. Nevada has dozens of apprenticeship opportunities including industries such as construction, IT-cyber security, advanced-manufacturing, hospitality, and health care.

To learn more about work-based learning such as apprenticeships, visit OWINN’s website. We are also launching a work-based learning portal with an aggregated list of internships and apprenticeships in the state of Nevada. I saw a quote that captures the importance of work-based learning: “Knowing without doing is like not knowing at all.”

What industries will be around in the near future?

Technology is changing so fast no one can speak with 100% certainty, especially regarding specific occupations. But broadly speaking, education, government, technology, health care, and entrepreneurship are industries that will be around in the foreseeable future – although the specific occupations are unpredictable.

Why? Well, one common thread is that the industries above generally require a lot of people skills and interactions (depending on the specific occupation within them of course). For instance, it will take society a long time and complete paradigm shift to ever comfortably drop kids off at school with only robot supervision.

Researchers agree broadly that robots are good at tasks that are repetitive, mundane, or have predictable patterns. Of course, with the advancement of artificial intelligence and machine learning, robots can already perform a lot of complex tasks, but the more human interaction and unpredictable the job the less likely it is to be automated (at least for now). A cautionary note: White collar jobs, even those requiring advanced degrees will also be automated; legal zoom is evidence of that.

Meaningful industries such as construction, transportation, advanced manufacturing, technology, and hospitality will continue to thrive in Nevada.

These industries have meaningful career pathways right now and have many opportunities for growth and advancement. However, young people often think of these industries based on stereotypes. For example, I toured an advanced manufacturing facility in Northern Nevada and visited several Registered Apprenticeship training centers in Southern Nevada and was amazed with the amount of technology that is being used. Hospitality requires a lot of problem solvers and individuals with strong emotional intelligence. These industries are not what our grandparents knew them as – they require thinkers and dreamers, but they also require technical skills and problem solvers and provide a meaningful path for career advancement. Before dismissing these industries, go on a tour, do some research and ask questions. If after learning about these industries you are not excited, think of building your own career as an entrepreneur, but again, make sure you have the skills needed to build a product people will pay you for.

Be prepared to reinvent yourself and be a lifelong learner.

Finally, no matter what you do, be prepared to reinvent yourself over and over. Be a lifelong learner – a college degree is not career-proof so focus on constantly learning, unlearning, and relearning. Explore the value Nevada’s great community colleges have to offer, which provide learning and career learning at an affordable price. The chances of you having one career or occupation in your lifetime are slim to none. Do not be afraid of technology and the changing labor-market. Jobs will exist; they will just require different skills and mindsets. Have an open mind, be flexible, try new things, and learn new skills. Those qualities along with hard work will improve job security and will be your currency in the workforce.

Manny Lamarre serves as the Executive Director for the Governor’s Office of Workforce Innovation (OWINN), which has the mission of creating a skilled, diverse, and aligned workforce. OWINN assesses workforce policies, leverages labor-market data, scales registered apprenticeships and career pathways that lead to industry recognize credentials. Visit OWINN to learn more.

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