Last week I had the good fortune to talk to about 300+ students as part of a panel discussion at the AISEC event, YouthSpeak. AISEC is a global student-run organisation that is focussed on leadership development for university students. YouthSpeak is their movement to address the challenges that today’s students will face in the future.

The students were highly engaged and clearly passionate about the future of Australia.  Here are the four key themes that the youth of today are concerned about:

What sort of a job market are we entering and how can we stay competitive?

The central theme of the panel was whether Australia has become too complacent and needless to say the students were very focussed on what this means for their future employment prospects. The panel (consisting of myself, Nick Wilson of Hewlett Packard and Greg Keith of Grant Thornton) largely agreed that EQ was going to be just as important as IQ in a world where routine tasks were done by machines. For example, in the accounting world, Greg said they are planning on all compliance work being automated within five years.

What will our relationship with Asia look like and how will it impact me?

A topical issue among the students was Australia’s relationship with Asia. A lot of the students were of Asian descent and wanted to know whether that was seen as an advantage in the workforce. Given the nature of the ‘Asian Century and our strengthening ties with neighbouring nations, any connection to Asia, whether through heritage or international work experience was seen as a positive attribute from the panel’s point of view.

 Will it be possible to maintain balance?

Students were concerned about work-life balance. They recognised that they needed to be competitive with economies that are clawing their way up but at the same time did not want to give up those aspects of life in Australia that make it so great. A dilemma to which the panel and other professionals could certainly relate.

 What is Australia’s appetite for innovation?

The students covered a wide range of topics, but the session ended with a question as to why Australian inventions (such as Wi-Fi, and the Black Box flight recorder, to name a few) were commercialised overseas. I pointed out that at the time of these past inventions, scale and investment were critical as 90 percent of the cost was in getting the completed product to market. Now however, thanks to technology change, these economic barriers to success are falling and I encouraged them that there was no better time than the present to be entrepreneurial and innovative and go after the next great invention.

Based on the discussions and the glint in their eyes, I believe we have a generation of youth who are determined to get out there and make a difference.

Do you agree with their questions?