Q&A with leaders from the AI sector share their advice for young people on the future of work


The world of work is changing.

Rapid advances in technology are transforming sectors and succeeding in the workplace will require new skills and competencies to keep pace. The youth are entering a world where the skills they learnt in school may not be the ones most needed by employers.  Many of today’s students will end up in jobs that haven’t even been created yet.

Meanwhile, the world is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic where young people suffered from disrupted education and lost jobs. The importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship has therefore never been more important.

On this year’s World Youth Skills Day we asked four experts from the field of Artificial Intelligence participating in the  U&AI youth bootcamp organized by the Institute for AI International Governance at Tsinghua University (I-AIIG) and supported by UNDP, to share advice for young people on the future of work. Below are the key takeaways:


The skills required in the future workplace

Wanyi Zhao, founder of Aurora Innovative Technology, says three skills will be vital for future workplaces: programming, collaboration, and self-promotion. “Gaining programming skills will give you more career options and help you gain a competitive edge,” Zhao said, “[while] collaboration skills can help you work with people from different backgrounds and widen your views”.

Self-promotion will also be essential. It can help you speak up and “reach the people you need so you can sell yourself, or your products, to the world,” Zhao added.

While getting to grips with new and emerging technologies will no doubt be useful, Tian Tian, CEO at RealAI says there are several human-centric skills which will become ever more vital. “One is creativity,” he said. “The workplace of the future requires new ways of thinking and human creativity. Currently artificial intelligence and robots cannot compete with humans [on this]”.

Tian also added that young people’s ability to “learn actively” in order to grow at work, take on new challenges and learn from mistakes will become ever more important.

Finally, as our workplaces become increasingly remote and more diverse in race, culture, religion and gender “one of the biggest skills today is empathy and cultural intelligence,” said Steven Adler, CEO and founder at The Ocean Data Alliance. “Understanding the diversity of people from different parts of the world, different interests, different ideas and recognizing the value of their ideas… is one of the major challenges of remote work in the future”.

Watch video highlights of this Q&A below:


Tips for budding entrepreneurs

“You will face a lot of negative and questioning voices from your friends, investors, partners and even from close family members,” warns Zhao when asked for her advice for young people keen to go down the entrepreneurship path. “If you want to be an entrepreneur you have to have a strong heart”.

Tian agrees, adding that remaining optimistic is the only way to tackle the unexpected challenges continuously thrown at you when starting your own business. This is also when critical thinking to solve complex problems become essential, as well as having “high EQ (emotional intelligence), leadership skills to motivate and help others and also being good at cooperation”.

“The ability to learn from your own mistakes and be honest about your own mistakes,” is also important according to Adler. But above all he emphasized the incredibly motivating ability of obstacles and barriers. “I feel personally motivated to try and do things other people say they can’t do and that to me is a true definition of an entrepreneur - someone who refuses to be told they can’t do something and instead uses the challenges and opportunities to rise up and prove them wrong”.


Fostering resilience and adaptability is key

The pandemic has kept young people at home, disrupted their studies and disproportionately affected their employment prospects.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic will not be the last crisis the world will face. As we speak climate change is putting pressure on food systems, increasing the frequency of natural disasters and displacing populations. It is no surprise then that all our experts emphasized the ability to be resilient, adapt to new challenges and keep learning.

“Someone wise once said, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference,” said Professor Jingjing Liu, a professor and principal Investigator at Tsinghua University’s Institute for AI Industry Research. “I’m also learning how to do this [especially] in the past year when going through the ups and downs brought by the pandemic”.

Reaching out to your peers and network is another way to grow when circumstances get tough. “Don’t hesitate to ask for help, there is no shame in reaching out to your social circle,” Zhao advises. Since “change is the nature of the world,” she recommends to “always keep yourself learning and updated”.


Optimism for the next generation  

Equipped with an ever-growing arsenal of digital technologies, curiosity and the energy to make the world a better place, many of our interviewees have high hopes for the emerging generation of young leaders.

“It’s always young people who change the world,” says Tian while referencing Newton laying the foundation for the theory of calculus at 22 and Einstein proposing the theory of relativity at 28. He believes young people today also have huge potential to make a difference. “Now, the average age of my team is less than 30,” said Tian. “They are committed to using safe and controllable next generation AI to change the world”.

Adler also believes the next generation will have a sizeable impact. “[They’re] so in tune with the challenges we face today [and] their environmental awareness is just incredible”. Buoyed by the increasing numbers of young people choosing what they buy and where they travel  based upon their carbon impact, he also hopes youth will “tackle the issues of climate change and biodiversity - the two most important challenges facing humanity today”.

Zhao is equally encouraged. After she started her own company, she noticed that a lot of her coworkers and partners were extremely passionate and hardworking - even when faced with difficult problems. “They always try to learn [and acquire] new, updated knowledge or join forums to equip themselves with new skill sets,” explained Zhao. “So, I feel very optimistic for the new generation of entrepreneurs”.


At UNDP China we are committed to helping young people become change makers and equip themselves with the right skills to make the world a better place.

If you are interested in learning how artificial intelligence can help tackle real-world development challenges and meet the Sustainable Development Goals, why not register for the U&AI bootcamp organized by Tsinghua University and supported by UNDP.

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