A few days ago, I had the pleasure of inaugurating a series of talks entitled "Young people, economy and finance" organised by the Sondrio and Cremona local school departments, with the backing of the Foundation of the Credito Valtellinese Group.
I was asked to talk about the key steps in my career thus far. Telling them about my time at Olivetti, the Italian postal service, Intesa Sanpaolo, my stint as a cabinet minister and my current entrepreneurial adventure at illimity provided an excuse to reiterate my firm belief that Italy has incredible hidden potential that needs to be exploited, both in the government and private spheres, and that we must not be held back by the many people who put the country down, both inside and outside the nation.
Summarising all the topics we touched on with those young people is no easy task. The beauty of those years in middle and high school is something that emerged clearly. It truly is a unique time in one's life that you can never have back, because everything is still open before you. It is definitely a period of life with few certainties and a touch of fear about the future, but this is perfectly normal. My advice to those young people to help them make the most of these years and to be freer in subsequent years was the following. Try to discover at least some of the things that exist in the world and that you don't know about. Try to learn something about the world beyond the setting in which you live every day, outside that which is taken for granted. Seek what is "beyond" and love diversity, break away from groups where everyone thinks the same way. This is the only way to avoid growing old too quickly and having a boring life.
In all likelihood, if you develop your curiosity, you'll succeed in life and enjoy yourself throughout. Make smart use of, say, the internet to read up and learn about things that you don’t know about as this can help make you more curious. So can listening to people who have succeeded in areas you knew nothing about. Don't be afraid of not understanding everything you read or hear. What really matters is discovering other worlds, going beyond borders and frontiers.
One theme that was really evident was the change sweeping through the working world and the consequent trouble in finding one's way. My answer was more or less the following.
Don't worry if you still don't know what you want to do when you are grown up - it's normal. Don't start by thinking about jobs that already exist in this world. Think about what you want to be. Try to understand what you really like. What makes you - or will make you - happy. Try to discover who you want to be like. It takes time to find answers, but slowly you'll uncover your pathway.
New jobs will constantly be created. Many current jobs will disappear. Perhaps as many as fifty per cent of current jobs won't exist in a few years. Those jobs that can be done by a robot or software are definitely on the way out. Steer clear of simple jobs and those anyone can do.
Nearly all jobs, even those that survive, will be completely changed by new technologies. If you are thinking about jobs that already exist - say, a doctor or marketing manager - be prepared to do such jobs in an "augmented" form, not a traditional one; this means being able to use new methods and technologies.
Creative jobs will never disappear, nor will many high-quality craft trades. Those that require direct, meaningful human relations will never be replaced by machines.
Many industries will grow exponentially, such as the digital world and artificial intelligence, of course, but also robotics, genomics, new materials, biotechnologies, new medicine and new agriculture. These are merely a few examples. Jobs in the non-profit sector will also increase.
There will be growing need for entrepreneurs, perhaps startuppers and managers able to make decisions, for public administrators, and for people who can create teams of varied people to manage complex problems.
Moving from the outlook for the working world to what one should study is another step. It is always tricky to provide general advice on this front, but I tackled this sphere as follows. Whatever subject you choose, realise from the beginning that any concepts you learn will soon be insufficient and it will be necessary to keep learning throughout your life. The most successful people are those who never stop learning and who learn quickly. Learn to learn. It might seem like playing with words, but it contains an important truth. Concepts change, but methods remain.
It might well be the case that the first pathway you embark on to study is not your final one. During your life, your studies and your career, have the courage to change paths and start from the beginning again, if necessary.
Even if you make the right choices, everything won't proceed smoothly all the time. You'll fall more than once - at times it won't even be your fault. But what is truly important is to get up again, and feel even stronger than before. I tell you this because, like everyone, this is something I have experienced first hand. At the time, such experiences can really hurt, but unexpected pathways can also open up.
Careers, even the most successful ones, go up but also down. At times the wrong choices are taken or mistakes are made. Making mistakes and remembering them simply means moving off the beaten track. And sometimes, heading off the path will actually speed things up.
We don't know what the future will be like. We only know it will be different to today and constantly changing. The combination of technology and globalisation will accelerate everything beyond all expectations.
Our future will also depend on each of us. In life, remember that we are not only responsible for ourselves, for our families, and for our companies, but also for, at least a touch, the community we belong to. Every day, through our actions and through the example we set, each of us can make a difference, nudging things in the right direction.
The pandemic has shown us how things we believed were certainties changed overnight. The new post-Covid normal will be very different to how things were in the past.
There has never been a time with more opportunities than the next few years will hold, for those who have the courage to move forward, without fear.