Millennials and The Age of Opportunity

Head of Curriculum and Extension Music
Originally published in 2016

Here we are, at the beginning of what is sure to be another busy year. It is a time for planning, goal-setting and list-making and with this comes the hope and optimism that we will see these good intentions through. Hope and optimism are words that have emerged during staff meetings and staffroom conversations during our recent preparation week here at Brisbane Girls Grammar School. In an era when we are faced with global change and disruption in every facet of life, they are two words that can easily be forgotten, but perhaps it is time to change the way we think about the future—not for ourselves but for the sake of the youth of today.

Of course this topic is not new—there is so much literature at the moment on disruption (in particular disruption caused by technological advancements) and this era of change. If you have followed Insights for the last year you will have noticed more than one article about preparing our students for the ambiguity of the future. We talk about it in education; it is commonplace in business literature and increasingly in politics. The more you read on this topic of the future and the complex and global problems we face, you would be forgiven for wanting to crawl into bed, hide your head under the covers and never come out. What seems to dominate this discussion is an overwhelmingly negative rhetoric—one of fear and of problems which are too big and too hard to solve.

Although it is easy to become swept up in the negativity that surrounds the enormity of the global challenges and uncertain future we (and the next generation) face, there are people spreading hope for the future. The recent Australian of the Year Awards provided many welcome examples of hope and optimism. In particular, young role models, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett (Young Australians of the Year), are paving the way for other young people to define their own future as one that is daring, optimistic, compassionate and successful. Similarly, the Foundation for Young Australians believes that young people are crucial to creating a better future and we need to prepare them to lead change within our communities and further afield (FYA Unlimited Potential, 2016). Opportunities for Millennials may look different from those of the past but they exist nonetheless. Most of all, this generation has an opportunity to create significant change for the better. It is our job to develop the skills and confidence they need to rise to the challenge.

Frank Spencer, the creator and lead instructor at the Futures Institute at Duke University has defined the patterns we see emerging in the world today as a move towards the ‘Age of Opportunity’. In his article ‘Wicked Opportunities: 7 Shifts in the Age of Opportunity’, he defines ‘seven shifts’ outlining the move towards a time where we can harness our resources to solve some of our biggest problems (Spencer, 2015). Most importantly, Spencer (2015) believes that, by defining these shifts and providing an alternative mindset, people will aspire to a new tomorrow, to be optimistic and seek and identify new opportunities.

Through an extensive service program at Girls Grammar, the girls are provided with an avenue to discover a sense of purpose, a human element that Spencer argues is becoming of utmost importance. This shift that Spencer (2015) describes as moving from mechanistic to organic, explores the notion that people now strive to work to leave things better than when they found them. In comparison with the industrial revolution and the ‘progress’ that we have experienced in recent times where consumption and creation equate to success, we as a people are now heading down a pathway that is more interested in solving grand challenges and building a more caring and compassionate world.

Higher education for the Millennial might look very different from now. Spencer (2015) goes on to describe a number of shifts in the way we gather ideas, learn and interact. Gone are the days where knowledge is locked away in silos. Rather, many universities are moving towards degrees in trans-disciplinary studies as a way of fostering creativity and innovation. Linear, one-sided thinking is exchanged for openness and an interconnected, collaborative environment.

In 2014, Stanford University ran a thought-provoking project asking students to develop four different projections for what university will look like in the year 2100. ‘Missions not Majors’ was one example, a model in which students would enrol in trans-disciplinary studies, opening their world to a vast array of knowledge and networks and later obtaining the opportunity to specialise in a particular ‘mission’ to solve a global problem.

For some universities this is not just a thought exercise: Claremont Graduate University in Los Angeles, has a trans-disciplinary studies programme which develops ‘transformative mindsets’ aiming to help students come up with creative solutions to complex problems (Spencer, 2015). The New School of Design in NYC also has a Masters in Fine Arts in Trans-disciplinary Design, combining design thinking with social innovation. With these world challenges come new opportunities, and Millennials are perfectly placed to take advantage of these. Spencer (2015) describes this shift in our thinking as moving from a mindset of ‘scarcity to one of abundance’—that this new era will bring with it new jobs, new food sources and new lifestyles.

The Foundation of Young Australians runs a programme for 12–25-year-olds called Propeller Projects. Laura, a young Australian from Victoria, created the Propeller Project ‘Blessing Bags’ which puts together a few essential items that make life a little easier for the homeless (, 2016). These are then distributed through a network of shelters and crisis centres. They aim to provide support for the homeless but also combat the stigma attached to homelessness. This is one local example of a young person creating a positive change within her community and it is something she has created herself from scratch. We need to give Millennials the skills to be job creators rather than job seekers (FYA Unlimited Potential, 2016). This doesn’t just mean the skills for every young person to become an entrepreneur; what we are looking for are young people with purpose. In order to create a brighter future we need to encourage Millennials to grow an interest in and knowledge of the challenges of our local community, challenges at a national policy level and also global challenges. The prominent Indigenous leader and activist, Noel Pearson, brought this issue to the fore recently by saying ‘The Prime Minister’s conversation is largely focused on business and product innovation and venture capital mobilisation rather than social and policy innovation’ (NITV, 2016). The opportunities will not be found in starting a new business selling miscellaneous commodities. According to a publication from the Department of Planning and Community Development in Melbourne, the number of social enterprises is increasing in Australia and they are currently more likely to be set up by young people (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2013). The stereotype of the apathetic youth needs to be turned on its head—young people can create huge change. We must encourage them to care, to be compassionate, to listen, to search for opportunities and to have the confidence to make change. There are young people out there achieving great things—things that have purpose and contribute to the world and create a positive future for us all.


Addis, R., McLeod, J., & Raine A. (2013), IMPACT – Australia: investment for social and economic benefit. Canberra: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

FYA Unlimited Potential (2016). Our future depends on young people creating a strong economy and civic society. Retrieved from

Myles, M. (2016). Noel Pearson: Indigenous affairs is in deep crisis. Retrieved  from

The Propeller Project (2016). Blessing bags community project. Retrieved from

Spencer, F. (2015, January 1). Wicked opportunities: 7 shifts in the age of opportunity. [Case study]. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Vox Life (2015, February 28). 4 crazy ideas from Stanford about the future of college. Retrieved from


Read reflective commentary from Head of Curriculum and Extension Music, Ms Adele Cummings, on her article ‘Millennials and The Age of Opportunity’.


In 2016, I wrote about the opportunities available to young people, waiting for them in their lives beyond school. At the time, the narrative around the future for young people was one of despair— complex global challenges, a world of robots taking our children’s futures and a technological revolution that was leaving us numb. My article attempted to shine a light on the positive actions that young people were taking to create a better future—messages of hope.

I said that ‘we should encourage students to care, to be compassionate, to listen, to search for opportunities and to have the confidence to make change … we need to encourage young people with purpose.’

In the wake of the global climate strike, it is obvious that there are caring, compassionate young people eager to create change.

Take Greta Thunberg, for example, who has captured the world’s attention with her direct, serious and careful approach to addressing the climate crisis. The movement she has inspired is quite remarkable with millions demonstrating across 185 countries. These demonstrations prove young people care and want to inspire change. They are not content with the generations before them ‘sitting back’ and watching them fix the problems that we, as a global community, are creating.

Since writing about encouraging young people to care, listen and search for opportunities, I now believe we, the adults, are the ones who need to listen. What can we do to be more caring and compassionate? My hope is that we can support young people to continue to be resilient, brave and determined to help them have the future they deserve.