At a glance
In 2017, Oxford Dictionaries named “youthquake” as the word of the year.
“Youthquake is defined as a significant social, cultural, political, or technological change associated with youth,” says futurologist Rocky Scopelitti, author of Youthquake 4.0.
Commentators used the term to describe the generational change that saw large numbers of young people vote for opposition parties in the United Kingdom and New Zealand general elections in 2017.
However, youthquake is not a new word – Vogue editor Diana Vreeland coined the word in the 1960s to describe the rise of youth culture. “
We have been through a youthquake before,” says Scopelitti.
When the Oxford Dictionaries described the ascent of the millennials as a “youthquake”, Scopelitti looked to history for answers – and clues about what might come next.
He says that the 1960s was a disruptive period, but also one of opportunity.
“We saw the rise, for example, of consumer credit. We saw the rise of desires for home ownership, ownership of white goods, [we saw] the structure of work change – the whole family structure changed.”
With the benefit of hindsight, he says, we can see that “when we have significant social, cultural, political change, there will be significant opportunities on the back of that [change]”.
As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, Scopelitti says history shows “it’s important for us not be fearful of technological change, but to look at the opportunities that will come”.
Demographics meet technological change
Scopelitti’s research examines the convergence of two significant forces: demographic and technological change.
For the first time in human history, “youth have become the largest demographic on the planet,” he says. Today, more than ever, “youth voice matters”.
What makes young people such a potent force for change?
Young people today comprise the world’s second digital-first generation, says Scopelitti.
“They’ve grown up in a world where the world is their community, and they’ve been equipped with technologies to give them a global voice … [Their] influence can be felt in all parts of the world, whether that’s for a political cause, for example, around climate change or the boycott of a brand.
“They have a voice that’s real-time, and they are able to exert their influence, whether that’s socially [or] commercially … at a global scale.”
Scopelitti believes it is critical to ascertain how this demographic might shape the world over the coming decade – and how to make the most of their collective strengths.
“They’ve grown up in a world that has experienced more change than any other demographic that came before them. Change to them is as natural as the air they breathe,” he says.
In a world of rapid change, he says youth and their adaptability should be a source of optimism – and an asset. “The question is, how can we re-skill them into areas where we have significant gaps?”
New research from RMIT Online and Deloitte Access Economics reveals that Australia needs an extra 156,000 workers with technological skills.
Failure to address this skills shortage could cost the economy A$10 billion in lost growth. To address this skills shortfall, we need to think very differently about workplace learning, says Scopelitti.
Fortunately, young people want opportunities to grow at work. Scopelitti says his research shows that while older “demographics felt that work–life balance was their principal concern about the future and principal desire when it came to looking at employment, for the youth, it was development. They want, and aspire to, … develop their skills.”
Together, the power of young people and new technologies such as AI and blockchain have the ability to “lift us out of the productivity stagnation that we've been in for the last decade,” says Scopelitti.
Adapting to change a mystery, not a puzzle
Scopelitti says the message for employers across industries, not just finance and accounting, is that “in a world characterised by accelerated change, our capacity to adapt will become the new competitive advantage. We saw that through COVID-19 at a global scale – some organisations … had that adaptability and others didn’t.”
Advancing technology “combined with a highly adaptable workforce will enable organisations to adapt to what comes at them in a decade of uncertainty and accelerated change,” he says.
Just how we increase our capacity to adapt to a world of accelerated change is a question with no right or wrong answer, Scopelitti says.
“Unlike a puzzle, where before we begin, we know that there’s an answer … [it’s] more like a mystery where, at best, all we can see is really to the straight corner; but to survive, we need to be able to prepare for what’s going to come at us from around the corner,” says Scopelitti, who remains optimistic about the future.
“This is nothing new to us – this is Darwinian theory of survival. It’s all about adaptability.”
The good news, he says, is [that] “there’s never been a more promising decade where we’ve got the most adaptable generations in our youth together with all of these emerging technologies to really rethink the way organisations and corporations create value.”