Where Is the Education We Need?
May 30, 2018
Strategic advisor, Consultant, Futurist, Global speaker, Entrepreneur
istory has lessons and foreshadows the future. We are entering an era, not unlike the one that occurred a little over 150 years ago when thousands of people were displaced from farms and agricultural activities by the tractor and mechanized farm equipment. At the same time, the American industrial revolution was taking place with the rise of factories and the beginning of the industrial era. This had a profound effect on our society and way of life.
Educational requirements rose steadily so that unskilled farm works could be employed in factories where reading and math skills were required. Many firms ran training programs internally, as well. There was a ramp in public education from 1890 to 1940 and more and more young people completed at least eight years of education. The current elementary through secondary school system was created during this period and was modeled to supply workers for factories.
By 1940, 50% of young adults had earned a high school diploma. People moved from the farm to cities. Transportation allowed mobility and people expanded into suburban areas and moved west. By the end of World War II, the need for managers led to a rise in university enrollments and the growth of hundreds of new colleges. The multi-university of today that offers both liberal arts and science as well as professional education rose up after the war as a way to respond to the demand for more skilled technical and managerial workers in factories and offices.
Instead of focusing on bringing back dead-end jobs and trying to revive dying industries, we should instead be making an effort to reinvent education and redefine what we need for future skills.
Today software, computer automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the Internet of Things are displacing, once again, thousands of workers.
Society is in a social, economic and political upheaval. Manufacturing jobs are disappearing, and no economic or political effort will bring back many even temporarily and none permanently. Instead of focusing on bringing back dead-end jobs and trying to revive dying industries, we should instead be making an effort to reinvent education and redefine what we need for future skills. We have to move from machine age learning models and organization structures to those that fit this new era. We know that people who have a broad array of skills and knowledge – the ability to think critically and apply scientific, historical, ethical and social perspectives to their decisions. – are more likely to adapt to whatever needs arise and learn the skills they need quickly.
We know that people who have a broad array of skills and knowledge – the ability to think critically and apply scientific, historical, ethical and social perspectives to their decisions. – are more likely to adapt to whatever needs arise and learn the skills they need quickly.
Soft Skills Last Longer Than Hard Ones
Soft skills, rather than hard skills, will be the permanent ones. Hard skills such as programming, cloud computing, and the like will come and go, but math and physics skills will endure. A liberal arts education will go a long way toward fulfilling the needs of this century. Coupled with vocational and skills training offered widely and cheaply or free by employers, we can rebuild a workforce capable of the challenges automation and robotics will bring.
Google, Microsoft, IBM and many other firms are already focusing on hiring young people who have, learning ability, and a cooperative mindset, rather than narrowly educated technologists or engineers. We need to recognize skills and talent, rather than reward just those who have had the money and social structures to move through universities and obtain 4-year degrees.
What We Can Do
There are several ways employers and governments can help the currently employed or recently unemployed gain new and employable skills.
1. Employers can provide more training and development for both current employees and perhaps even for prospective employees through online courses, MOOCs, and other interactive, virtual tools. Every employer should be encouraging workers we gain skills, and they should be willing to pay for employees to get those skills through tuition reimbursement or even partnerships with local schools which provide training at no cost through negotiated contracts with employers. One employer who has done something about this is IBM. According to a recent New York Times article “In the last two years, nearly a third of IBM’s new hires . . . have not had four-year college degrees. IBM has jointly developed curriculums with the local community college, as well as one-year and two-year courses aligned with the company’s hiring needs.” —New York Times 2017-06-28
“Rather than spending tax dollars on reindustrialization, we should be spending it on re-education and training.”
2. Traditional educational institutions and practices need to be agile and flexible. We need more institutions that allow people to freely take courses whenever convenient and then combine them for a degree. Some universities are creating nano-courses containing small pieces of learning and which can be stitched together into a full course. Some private firms are creating and delivering a variety MOOCs that deliver learning via video and the Internet and there are a growing number of on-demand learning services and apps for mobile devices. Learning will need to be an all-the-time activity and will continue throughout a lifetime.
3. Federal, state and local governments need to provide funds for retraining and allow welfare payments or some other form of subsidy to those who are motivated to learn. There should be tax rebates or forgiveness for any money spent on learning. Community colleges should be heavily subsidized. Rather than spending tax dollars on reindustrialization, we should be spending it on re-education and training.
Organizations need to rethink what credentials they require for every position and make changes based on demonstrated need for the credential, not on tradition or on assumptions. Many jobs that require degrees might be reimagined and redesigned to allow people with less education to do them successfully. Practices like this could reduce the perceived talent shortage and improve productivity. All of our typical organizational processes and structures were created during the 20th century when there was little-automated equipment, no Internet, no email and no way to work remotely. Today people can work anywhere and need less day-to-day management. What they do need is coaching, advice, and someone to set direction. Hierarchy is slowly being replaced with teams and networks of workers, often crossing time zones and geographies.
All of these trends – automation, globalization, teamwork, less hierarchy, and the need for broader skills – means that education must find ways to provide us with a workforce capable of dealing agilely with global, complex, and interdependent work. By continuing to offer narrow, deep, technical education and by dismissing those who do not have the ability to get that education, we are failing our entire population.
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Kevin Wheeler Founder and Chairman the Future of Talent Institute. Kevin started FOTI in 2004 out of his passionate belief that organizations need a more powerful and thoughtful architecture for talent than they have. After a 25 year career in corporate America serving as the Senior Vice President for Staffing and Workforce Development at the Charles Schwab Corporation, the Vice President of Human Resources for Alphatec Electronics, Inc. in Thailand, and in a variety of human resources roles at National Semiconductor Corporation, Kevin has firsthand knowledge of the need for better strategies and approaches to finding, developing and retaining people.
Today, Kevin is a globally known speaker, author, teacher and consultant in human capital acquisition and development, as well as in corporate education. He is the author of numerous articles on human resource development, career development, recruiting, and on establishing corporate universities. He is a frequent speaker at conferences. He writes a weekly Internet column on recruiting and staffing, which can be found at www.ere.net, and he and Eileen have written a book on corporate universities, The Corporate University Workbook: Launching the 21st Century Learning Organization. He serves as adjunct faculty at San Jose State University, the University of San Francisco and on the business faculty at San Francisco State University.
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