Education for the economy of the future II


Bloomberg Businessweek just published their New Rules for the modern workplace. Their list:

Rule No. 1: Your job is temporary. Where you start isn’t where you’ll end up. Your job, company, and profession may completely change because of mergers and acquisitions, layoffs, outsourcing, automation, and various other factors that are outside your control.

Rule No. 2: Do not let your job description confine you. … While you’re managing your role, you should be acquiring new skills to help carry you to your next role.

Rule No. 3: Your Rolodex is more important than your knowledge base. We’ve moved from the information economy to the social economy. Companies are hiring based on cultural fit, connections, and soft skills over a candidate’s ability to get the job done.

Rule No. 4: Your experiences matter more than your title.

Rule No. 5: Your personal reputation is your greatest asset.

Add these to the non job specific attributes that we have explored in previous posts that employers are increasingly looking for and that will most define who has successful careers in the future. And then ask yourself whether policy makers in emphasizing standardized test results,  job specific skills and online learning are moving k-16 education towards or away from the economy of the future.

Harvard’s Tony Wagner in his interview with Thomas Friedman I wrote about in my last post clearly thinks the answer is no. Friedman writes:

“We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. …  More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.” (Emphasis added.)

… “Teachers,” he said, “need to coach students to performance excellence, and principals must be instructional leaders who create the culture of collaboration required to innovate. But what gets tested is what gets taught, and so we need ‘Accountability 2.0.’ All students should have digital portfolios to show evidence of mastery of skills like critical thinking and communication, which they build up right through K-12 and postsecondary. Selective use of high-quality tests, like the College and Work Readiness Assessment, is important. Finally, teachers should be judged on evidence of improvement in students’ work through the year — instead of a score on a bubble test in May. We need lab schools where students earn a high school diploma by completing a series of skill-based ‘merit badges’ in things like entrepreneurship. And schools of education where all new teachers have ‘residencies’ with master teachers and performance standards — not content standards — must become the new normal throughout the system.”

Jack Lessenberry in a Michigan Radio commentary entitled Education for education’s sake also would answer no. (In the column Lessenberry is critical of remarks made by State Superintendent Mike Flanagan.  Mike ––  a terrific member of the Michigan Future Leadership Council –– responds in a podcast that you can find here. I know they both agree that we need an education system that provides all students with broad, rather than narrow job specific, skills building.)

Lessenberry says:

There’s nothing wrong with education for education’s sake—if that means teaching people how to think, and how to learn. There is also nothing wrong with knowing lots of things that are part of culture and civilization, even if they aren’t knowledge that can immediately be converted into cash. The schools cannot possibly teach students how to cope with the technology or the tax structure that they’ll need to know in the year 2035, because we have no idea what that technology will be.

The woman with whom I share my life spends her days digitizing archives and designing and creating online catalogs for special library collections. These are not things she learned in high school or college, because the technology hadn’t been invented, and partly because she hadn’t developed an interest in that field. Instead, she studied languages and comparative literature. She didn’t learn how to do modern computer coding till she was in her 50s. I didn’t study journalism until graduate school. But I studied other things that equipped my mind with a set of intellectual furniture and the tools to try to keep learning and figuring stuff out.

… whenever I hear people say that education should be geared to the needs of a particular set of employers or a specific job, I think of Aldous Huxley’s nightmare novel, “Brave New World,” where humans were rigorously selected for certain tasks before birth, and the lower orders kept dumb and ignorant.

… Doug Rothwell, the CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan does understand what education is, and said so yesterday. “We need people with the skills to adapt to changes in their careers,” he said, adding, “A lot of that comes from a good liberal arts education.” From where I sit, I couldn’t agree more.

Our policy makers have a lot to learn from folks like Wagner, Lessenberry, Rothwell and so many others –– including most importantly many employers –– who understand that it is broad skills –– many not cognitive or job specific –– that matter most to success in the economy of the future. Until they learn those lessons we are in real danger of preparing our children and grandchildren for an economy that no longer exists with a huge cost to both them and our economy. Not smart!

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Lou Glazer

About Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.


2 thoughts on “Education for the economy of the future II

  • Kathy Grost

    This article covers several issues. There is little argument about the accuracy of Tony Wagner’s quote: “More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy.” and we have not adequately made the conversion needed to meet 21st century needs. A problematic reality, however, is that because Mr. Wagner’s preceding sentence “We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” is extremely difficult to replace. Furthermore it is in a true sence what education is. There is a cold fact that nearly all discussions about education trends (especially as they relate to economic development)doesn’t want to touch, and it’s that technology is increasingly replacing human beings in the work place. Companies can get away with fewer employees, which reduces costs, while maintaining quality and gaining competative advantage by automating systems in nearly every industry.

    This article starts out with “Rule No. 1: Your job is temporary. Where you start isn’t where you’ll end up. Your job, company, and profession may completely change because of mergers and acquisitions, layoffs, outsourcing, automation, and various other factors that are outside your control.” touches on this theme. Taking this further to its logical conclusion: as these changes because of mergers and acquisitions, layoffs, outsourcing, automation, and various other factors that are outside your control take place you will be among a numbered few if you are able to remain in your, or any, career because mergers and acquisitions, layoffs, outsourcing, and automation do not create reshuffling they create displacement.

    This problem would at least be mitigated if employers reorganized and reduced the numbers of hours demanded of skilled employees thereby increasing worker populations by spreading workloads over a larger work force. But the opposite is occurring. The highly skilled, smart, motivated, dedicated and lucky young working members in the new economy need to be groomed for the automation revolution that will spin them out as soon as the next revolution spins in. They need to know that they will likely have periods – often lengthy – where they will not be employed (earning money) and that they will need to be financially prepared for those times and have the ability to “reinvent” themselves probably several times.

    That is very difficult to teach! Our educators have not been taught to teach those skills. They don’t posses those skills themselves because at the time most of them were educated these skills were not required. These may be skills that are largely unteachable in the first place in a “school setting”. The mention of completing a series of skill-based ‘merit badges’ type learning is on point but that requires aboundant discipline and character education. That is counter to many school settings, and that is not going to change until culture, parents and families change. It is counterintuitive to the self esteem building/I’m ok, you’re ok model of education that is the only revolution we’ve seen since the single room school house industial revolution model referenced here. You can’t have it both ways and these change seeds aren’t even being taken out of the wax paper.

    • Lou Glazer
      Lou Glazer Post author

      Thanks for the really thoughtful comment. I agree 100%. Because of globalization and technology our kids and grandkids are going to live and work in an economy where jobs and occupations are increasingly unstable. So good careers are going to be built on the ability to constantly learn and adjust. What we refer to as more like rock climbing than ladder climbing. That means those skills –– not narrow job specific skills –– are what matters most to career success.

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