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Parenting Teens for the 21st Century Work Place: Achoring Skills

In There's a Stranger in My House by Dr James Wellborn

Twenty first century workers will have to contend with the reality that there are smart, accomplished people all over the world that can transmit their knowledge instantly anywhere in the world. While your kid will need to have a solid intellectual foundation, they will also need skill sets that can’t be outsourced to workers other countries; skills that can only be performed face-to-face in a particular geographic location. These anchoring skills will increase your kid’s job security throughout the 21st century.

The concept of anchored jobs was discussed by Pulitzer prize winning journalist Thomas L. Friedman in his 1997 book The World is Flat. In examining the global nature of employment competition, he identified 3 kinds of jobs.

  • Fungible jobs were ones that could be outsourced to another country or to the past (i.e., replaced by technology or machines).
  • Anchored jobs require the worker to be physically present.
  • Value-add jobs require a high degree of skill, specialized knowledge (usually a college degree or highly developed talent), creativity and problem-solving.

Friedman then identified 4 types of jobs that make a worker untouchable: special, specialized, anchored and really adaptable. These jobs represent varying degrees of anchoring and value-added. Special jobs (value add and unanchored but don’t necessarily require face-to-face interaction) are based on unique talent (think singers, performers, professional athletes). Specialized jobs (value add but some are anchored and some aren’t) are those that require skills in a specialized domain (important people like a highly trained, brilliant psychologist specializing in working with adolescents and families, neurosurgeons, astronauts). Anchored jobs (anchored but some are value-add and some aren’t) have to be performed in a specific location requiring face-to-face contact with a client, customer or patient (like a waitress, cab driver, plumber, electrician, nursing aide or carpenter). Finally, Friedman identified really adaptable jobs (value add but some are anchored and some aren’t) that require employees to learn fast, work on unfamiliar, changing tasks and keep up with changing knowledge or skill base like in the sciences, communication and computer and information technology.

So, what does this mean for your kid? Both low and high skilled service sector jobs like telemarketing, clerical, accounting, architecture, computer programming, engineering, scientific research and, potentially, even education (see Kahn Academy as an example of online education) will continue to be outsourced to those skilled enough to accomplish the task but willing to do the work for a lower wage (like people from countries with a lower standard of living, reduced wage expectation or nationally-subsidized professional and technical higher education). Manufacturing jobs will go to the employee willing to work for the lowest wage in countries with the least restrictions on working conditions. Jobs primarily requiring physical labor will continue to be filled with the least skilled who are willing to work for the least pay.

What’s a parent to do?

21st Century Skills. The skills discussed in this series of posts on 21st Century Work Skills will increase your kid’s employability regardless of whether the job is anchored or not. These skills are the easiest to influence and are adaptable to whatever your kid passionately wants to do for gainful employment. They are fundamental characteristics of people who have anchored, value add jobs.

Readin, writin n’ rithmetic. Your kid better be able to read well, write fluently and be math literate at least through Algebra II. If they are going to college, these are the bare minimum criteria to be accepted. If your kid isn’t for sure about college, this level of learning is crucial for future employment options (and if they change their minds about college). They don’t have to remember how to do it all. They need to have been exposed to it and mastered it well enough to understand the concepts, at a minimum. Require them to read every day. Read along with them if you have to. (See this site for books that can raise your kid’s reading level. Select their grade level and check off “just right” or “easy.” Have them pick a book to read from the list.)

Understand technology. Familiarity with technology is vital. This doesn’t mean just how to log onto sites or update their Facebook page. They need to have some idea about the programming behind the technology. They need to know how to MAKE USE of the technology, not just use it. Consider having the family take an intro course in one of the modern technologies. Have them build a family webpage. Make your kid learn basic programming. (This is not so they can become a programmer, which is a job that can be easily outsourced. They need to know something about what programmer’s do in order to problem solve with them or, better yet, manage them.)

Play well with others. Lone wolves look cool when they are howling in silhouette against the moon while standing on a cliff outcropping. Unfortunately, they also don’t reproduce, starve to death or are killed by other wolves that run in packs. Your kid will need to be able to work well with and get along with colleagues from all nationalities and cultural backgrounds. It ain’t a small world any more. They can’t afford (literally) prejudice, stereotyping or cliquishness.

Keep up. Confidence is one thing. Blind, unjustified arrogance is another. If your kid thinks they know it all they are facing a long hard road ahead. They will need to understand that the need for education and learning will not end when they graduate. (See the Continuous Learning post for some suggestions.)

Be a self-starter. Your kid will need to recognize opportunities and actively look for things worth tackling (or that need tackling). (See the Personal Initiative and Work Ethic posts for suggestions.)

Think for themselves. If your kid waits for someone else to figure things out they will be left in the dust. They need to have an opinion for themselves. (See the Critical Analysis, the Decision Making, and Dissenting Opinion posts.

Contribute. Your kid will need to have something to offer their employer and their colleagues in addition to just their particular skills. They will need to be a good corporate citizen (as well as a good Citizen of this country). This means recognizing their obligation to the larger group to pitch in (whether it is a company or a community or a country).

Talk high skill, anchored jobs. Have conversations with your kid about potential jobs and the job market. There is an incredible range of potential employment in our country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) gathers all that information. It is a great site to visit with your kid to start (or expand) their view of potential jobs. (Here is the link to a section that reviews potential jobs and career for teens. It provides just a taste of possible jobs.) They also have predictions about the job market for the next 10 and 20 years. The following are some high skilled, anchored jobs with a salary in the middle income or higher range. Each category is linked to the BLS site that provides information about the range of specific jobs for that category and a summary of the training required, salaries and job market predictions.

Have a fall back skill. This is also known as “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” and “save for a rainy day.” Here is the crux of the matter. The more limited your kid’s skills set (and mind set), the less competitive they will be in the 21st Century economy. If your kid is going to pursue an unanchored, non-value add career or one that is so highly specialized that you either make it or you starve (i.e., art, acting, etc.) they need a fall back. The most obvious is a college degree. At the very least they need a stable, marketable skill. The actor Harrison Ford spent a number of years working as a carpenter in order to eat (and not mooch off his parents) before he made it big. It is important to have a very serious discussion with your kid about the conflict that can arise between living fully in the present and preparing for the future. Adolescence is, in part, about establishing a foundation upon which to build their adult lives. If your kid won’t (or can’t) get a college degree, they need to launch from adolescence with a foundation in some other marketable skill set. Think anchored, highly skilled trades like carpentry, plumbing, electrician, cosmetology, metal working, emergency medical technician or court reporting. Apprentice (or volunteer) them to someone in a skilled trade. Pay to get them trained. Get them some tools and set them to building, wiring, plumbing or styling hair. By the end of high school, they need to have acquired the basics of some skilled trade or craft (the same way school provides an academic basis for attending college).

This is the last in a series of columns posts on the important skills business leaders, economists and employment specialists say 21st century workers will need to succeed. It is not safe to assume that your kids will acquire these skills in school or from extra-curricular activities. By helping your kid become familiar with and develop these skills within the family you will be giving them yet another step up in distinguishing themselves as a worker and as a valuable citizen.

(originally published in


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