Sixty per cent of young people are training for jobs that may not exist in the future, a Labour Party conference has been told.

Jan Owen of the Foundation for Young Australians told Labour's Future of Work conference in Auckland today that the education system should be re-geared to help people become multi-skilled.

"Our 15-year-old today could have 17 jobs in five different industries," she said.

"What it means is something very different to what their parents and grandparents had, which was mostly what we called a career.


"Sixty per cent in Australia are being trained in jobs that will be radically changed by automation, and 70 per cent of young people are entering the labour market in jobs that will be affected."

A foundation report published last August, The New Work Order, said labourers, machine operators, sales workers and technicians in fields such as wood trades and horticulture would all be radically affected by automation in the next 10 to 15 years, yet 58 per cent of tertiary students were training for those careers.

Ms Owen said the system should be changed to provide four kinds of skills: foundation skills of literacy and numeracy; technical skills which were still vital; "enterprise skills"; and skills for managing multiple careers.

The report lists "enterprise skills" as confidence, communication, creativity, project management, enthusiasm for learning, critical thinking, team work, digital literacy, financial literacy and global citizenship.

"They used to be called 'soft skills'. Employers particularly are very, very clear that these skills are missing with young people coming into the workforce," Ms Owen said.

Echoing a call in the Labour Party's "10 big ideas" report yesterday, she said digital literacy education should start in primary school.

The New Work Order report cites Britain's computing curriculum, which requires children to create and debug simple programs at ages 5 and 6, create more complex programs and analyse data at ages 7 to 11, and use at least two programming languages to create their own programs at ages 11 to 14.

Ms Owen also quoted a scheme run by her foundation which gave 6500 students $20 each to start a business with a social impact in one month.

"Many young people pooled their $20 because not everyone is an entrepreneur," she said.

"What was brilliant was watching the young people who worked out very quickly that they could go to the entrepreneur and say, for $5 I will create your logo, or for $5 I will create your website."

One group in the Northern Territory used their $20 to make their teachers go to a bootcamp to lose weight -- a business that the students now run for their whole community.

Ruth McDavitt, who helps run winter IT training camps in Auckland and Wellington and summer work experience through Summer of Tech, said many of the young people she worked with had technical skills but had to learn how to communicate with people.

"What we try and do is get role models," she said. "One of the things that is working for me is getting early-career tech people in the first five years of their career to talk about what they wish they knew and really that everything is selling -- you have to get your idea across to your boss.

"You are never going to win unless you can overcome that people stuff," she said. "Tech is a team squad."