A Call for Future-Oriented Education
Encouraging and supporting a high quality system of educating youth and adults is fundamental to our being a thriving and competitive country in today’s global marketplace. A nation that would short-change its schools and training opportunities gets what it pays for-an unmotivated and unskilled workforce.
But the role of educational institutions is under pressure to change not just some of its practices, but its core mission. Preparing citizens for the future is not what it used to be. Historically it was accepted that a relatively limited set of skills were needed to fortify a person for the world that awaited. We had the canon of reading, writing, and arithmetic (still important, of course) and threw in some knowledge to encourage citizenship, but beyond that students were largely on their own to determine which of several career paths they would choose.
Not so in the 21st century. Even a Bachelor’s Degree is not enough to suffice for an entire career. The nature of work and professionalism is changing too rapidly. In fact, it is estimated that today what one learns in college will in many ways be outdated before the student loans are paid off. Even the so-called blue collar jobs are becoming more technical and require skills and certifications that didn’t exist in the recent past. Blue collar no longer equates to low skill. To think that achieving a certain level of education will be adequate for almost any career today is short sighted and rooted in old fashioned ways of thinking.
For those dedicated to teaching, training, and helping people learn this news is actually good. It means your job never ends. Education is ongoing. Learning is lifelong. The ones who most need to reframe their thinking are all the rest of us who need to wrap our arms around the reality that obsolescence will always be nipping at our heels and that learning, relearning, and unlearning are now constants. Complacency is the greatest threat to our careers. Growing accustomed to changing skills and demands is the greatest benefit.
Workforce growth is linked to sophisticated skill development. High levels of unemployment will remain unless there is a reduction in talent shortage. According to the U.S. Labor Department there is a lack of talent in the STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), healthcare, and business. One thing this recession has made clear is that economic recovery is not about recreating conditions whereby people can return to their old jobs. It is much more about realizing that successful long-term employment is in preparing a workforce capable of performing in relevant jobs of the future. And that future is now.
Companies that do the hiring are increasingly concerned about the lack of necessary skills available. This problem is now as egregious as other competitive issues such as location, transportation of products, and procurement of materials. The problem grows larger when you look out over the legions of unemployed and see that three-fourths of them only have a high school education. If you want to be a player in the workforce of tomorrow you have to accept that a high school diploma is not enough. Be ready to get higher ed, vocational ed, or other skill training however you can and know that learning will be continuous. For many of us this will be the only path to living the lifestyle we want.
Schools should start getting this message to students at a young age. We as a society need to shake loose this notion that education is something you do before living. Rather it is what we do as part of living. A thriving, dynamic, and competitive nation is one that is always learning and adapting.