The power of work experience in the age of AI: Insights from Next Step Connections founder Jérôme Le Carrou

In this era where artificial intelligence (AI) is shaping industries and redefining many of the skills needed to succeed at work, the importance of work experience has never been clearer. After all, the very rapid development of AI has shown us a crucial fact: what makes us uniquely human in terms of creativity, emotion, and relationships is precisely what will set us apart in the future job market.

Next Step Connections, under the leadership of founder Jérôme Le Carrou, has been visionary in giving thousands of young professionals the hands-on experience they need across Asia, ultimately helping them stand out among their peers in a hyper-competitive and increasingly ambiguous job market. With this in the backdrop, the marketing team of Next Step Connections spoke with Jerome to learn more about his insights into the timeless importance of experiential learning.

The human edge – what we have that generative AI cannot replicate

As AI advances, the skills that make human beings, well, human – creativity, emotional intelligence, and the ability to foster relationships – will become increasingly critical. For instance, a recent study by McKinsey & Company showed that jobs with relatively high requirements for cognitive skills like creativity and complex problem-solving are less subject to automation. According to another report by the World Economic Forum, emotional intelligence is expected to be one of the top 10 job skills by 2025.

“AI has shown us that although it can manage data-driven tasks to an extraordinary degree, it is our creativity and emotional depth that makes us truly who we are,” Jerome points out. “The unique ability to think outside the box, to empathize with others, and to build meaningful connections are attributes that machines cannot replicate. Therefore, work experience that cultivates these qualities in people is essential. It’s through hands-on experiences that individuals learn to navigate complex social dynamics, develop innovative solutions, and understand the nuances of human interaction.” 

Jerome says that this is the vision of Next Step Connection’s programs. By engaging with peers and other cultures, stepping outside of one’s comfort zone, and learning from industry leaders and mentors, students and young professionals are poised to nurture essential skills needed to attain their goals.

“These experiences not only enhance our professional capabilities but also enrich our personal growth, fostering a well-rounded, adaptable, conscious, and emotionally intelligent workforce,” he explains.

Promoting skills and learning through experience

Next Step Connections has provided the opportunity for hands-on practical skills by bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-life challenges. They connect students and young professionals with immersive experiences that let them feel what it is like to navigate in real situations, thus fostering skills above and beyond technical proficiency and knowledge demonstrated in standardized testing.

“We offer the possibility for all the participants to experience meaningful work, contribute on a personal level, and create bonds that will help them in their future personal and professional development,” Jerome continues. “These experiences are crucial in preparing them for the future.”

Work experience has many benefits. It allows the individual to apply theoretical learning at practical levels, develop problem-solving skills, and gain a deeper understanding of their chosen field. Experiential learning also develops adaptability, resilience, and a proactive attitude, which is highly sought after in today’s dynamic job market. Many students who have reflected on their time participating in a Next Step Connections program speak of learning more about themselves and their strengths, giving them newfound confidence in their professional journey.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, students who underwent internships were most likely to be offered jobs as well as receive a higher starting salary. A 2019 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) study also found that students who had participated in internships were 20% more likely to receive job offers than those who had not.

“Experience in the real world is a lesson that cannot be read in books,” says Jerome. “When young professionals experience the intricacies of this world of work, they learn to overcome barriers and work with diversified teams. That builds character and sets them apart from their peers.”

As established by another NACE survey, 91% of companies favored job candidates with work experience. Sixty-five percent of them prefer their applicants to have relevant internship experience because, fundamentally, they understand that with practical experiences comes the skill and, therefore, confidence in pursuing one’s career to the fullest.

“Employers value candidates who can demonstrate their skills in the real world,” says Jerome. “Work experience helps promote technical skills and increase soft skills like communication, leadership, and emotional intelligence – skills that are crucial to nearly every single profession.”

Preparing young generations for the future

With all of this in mind, work experience is recognized as vital in nurturing future-ready professionals who can survive and thrive in an ever-evolving job market. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report underpins the critical importance of lifelong learning and adaptation in a fast-changing world. In addition, this real-world experience allows one to learn on the job and stay ahead in their industry. 

“In today’s fast-paced world, continuous learning keeps us relevant,” observes Jerome. “This is exactly how Next Step Connection’s programs help to instill this mindset of lifelong learning among young professionals, which is crucial for navigating the complexities of modern careers.” 

According to a report by Deloitte, 90% of business leaders feel that their organizations are facing a disruptive change triggered by digital technologies, and 70% say that their employees need new skills to keep pace with these changes. Acquiring essential skills comes through getting hands-on experience in dynamic environments, allowing professionals to stay competitive in the job market.

As we navigate the complexities of the modern workforce, the importance of work experience is clear. While AI continues to transform the landscape of various industries, it is our uniquely human attributes that will distinguish us in the future. Through the immersive and hands-on programs offered by Next Step Connections, young professionals are not only gaining essential skills but also cultivating the emotional and social intelligence needed to thrive.

“This work experience becomes an investment for the future workforce – ensuring that young people are enabled to thrive in the world of technology and human ingenuity,” concludes Jerome.

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