Are Your Students Ready for Future Work?

Are Your Students Ready for Future Work?

Teaching "transcendent" skills that will mark successful workers in the future.

At the moment, I’m wondering about the futures of my teen-aged children. It’s not that they’re not smart enough or hard-working enough, or don’t have the personalities to be successful in a career. It’s more about if those careers will still be around in the long-term, and whether or not my children can deal with the consequences if they’re not.

 Many of us know the U.S. Department of Labor prediction that kids in high school will have 10-14 different jobs by the time they’re in their late 30s, and that 65 percent of our grade-school kids will end up in jobs that haven’t yet been invented. And studies show that by 2020, over half of the workforce will be consultants, freelancers and independent contractors, cobbling out their own careers— not your mother’s job market. Or yours!

 Huge Job Shifts

 Why these huge shifts? In a couple of words: technology and the web. We’re entering a period where many of the jobs we know and love are being overrun by technology. For example, the January 2013 cover of Wired magazine screamed “The Robots Take Over!” and the tag line read, “They’re coming for your job—and you’ll be glad they did.” Author Kevin Kelly predicts that 70 percent of today’s occupations will be replaced by automation by the end of the century. Comedians, therapists, musicians, and teachers...it seems that no profession will be untouched, and it appears that significant changes will occur for professions quicker than we think.

 And the future of work for students requires different skills and dispositions. “We need to make sure that our kids are prepared for any work environment,” says Ben Grey, CIO at the Oak Lawn-Hometown District in Illinois. “That’s why we’re focusing on the transcendent skills we know they will need no matter what.” While collaboration, creativity, resilience, and critical thinking are important, equally important is the way we develop those skills. Given the Common Core mandates, Oak Lawn is embedding new experiences into the curriculum, where students are can build and create things that show their learning. 

"Design Your Own” Work

And some schools use what they call FedEx Days” (“deliver something overnight”) giving students 24 hours to create projects of their choice. In Naperville, Ill., some sixth graders created Rube Goldberg machines, wrote and performed a guitar solo, and created a highlight video of basketball moves. Other schools hold Maker Faires, where students design and create products with current technologies, that make learning irresistible”. And fabrication labs, as explained in the “Fab Lab” feature in the December 2012 issue of District Administration, are looking toward the future.

But while those transcendent skills may be important, what’s going to be crucial is for students to create their own paths. According to a recent Forbes piece, rather than candidates searching for jobs, job recruiters will search for candidates on the web. Finding jobs will be about having an online presence, making connections online, communicating ideas in global arenas and networking.

And all of that is why I’m wondering... and worrying...about all kids. Schools are still delivering a highly predictable experience for a highly unpredictable future. It’s about following the rules and staying within the lines, churning out kids who are good at following directions, but not so great at creating new directions and rules for a different age. That’s not a good thing. Self-direction. Independence. Perseverance. Entrepreneurial thinking. If these transcendent skills are not yet a foundational part of every child’s experience in your district, we should all worry about their futures.

Will Richardson is an author and educator who blogs about teaching and learning at willrichardson.com. His latest book is “Why School?” (whyschoolbook.com)


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