Why schools need to understand the future of work

Why do I care and why should we all care? Here are three reasons that may have a profound impact on the happiness of society and ultimately if technology is going to be used for good.

  1. Work, commerce, and the economy help to shape our society.
  2. If done well, work can be incredibly fulfilling for someone. If done poorly, it can be incredibly debilitating thus leading to negative outcomes outside of the workplace.
  3. Work and the realities and opportunities of the work world are generally a neglected topic in schools, unfortunately.

That is not ok. Our young people: teenagers, college students the entire millennial generation deserve more.

What can we change in schools when it comes to understanding the future of work? Let’s start with the following.

By making fundamental changes to the student experience, the knowledge base and training of teachers and traditional pedagogy, we can maintain rigor, increase interest, and better prepare young people for life.

Instead of focusing on:

  1. Individual accomplishments
  2. Theory
  3. Avoiding failure and penalizing it
  4. Creating a protective bubble
  5. Reducing technology to coding and robotics competitions
  6. Teaching in siloes

Learning should be about:

  1. Teamwork and collaboration
  2. Tangible creations, products, prototypes and inventions
  3. Learning from and embracing failure, celebrating brave new thinking
  4. Real life lessons
  5. Expanding an understanding of exponential technologies
  6. Connecting and teaching across disciplines

Why? Because in the work world, people work in teams. They make things. Everything is iterative and failure is inevitable. Life and work is tough sometimes. Young people should know it because they can handle it. Technology is impacting everything and is ever-changing. And people who are able to connect across disciplines will be the ones whose jobs are never automated.

What is happening in the work place now?

The key is not to provide the answer to this question to young people, but rather to expose them to what is happening today and what might happen when they enter the work force. We need to empower them to help shape that workforce and provide them with the tools to analyze trends and answer questions themselves.

For example, here are 5 questions that every 20-year-old should grapple with from technical, sociological, ethical, historical, and artistic perspectives.

  1. What impact will automation and A.I. have on work?
  2. What is the best workplace setting to maximize employee engagement and productivity?
  3. What will the company of the future look like?
  4. What skills will be needed to thrive in a global, transparent, socially conscious world?
  5. How do you keep learning past university into your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and beyond in order to stay relevant and ahead of the curve?

From James Manyika at McKinsey:

“And typically, when this topic comes up, there are three or four issues embedded within it. First, there’s the question and discussion around the impact of artificial intelligence, automation on work and jobs, and whether we’ll have enough work and jobs left after that. A second part of the conversation is around the changing models for work and work structure. This involves questions around independent work, the gig economy, and what people sometimes refer to as fissured work—whether people work as outsourced services or not. And whether any of those kinds of evolved work models are going to become the future, and whether people can work effectively and sustainably and earn living wages with enough support—in that kind of world of more varied types of work.”

I have 3 questions for school leaders.

  1. Why do we continue to be obsessed with grades and test scores when we know that SAT scores are not reliable predictors of work success or life happiness? And this was with the traditional work model!
  2. Why aren’t we engaging with these questions with our students, young and old?
  3. Why aren’t we developing models, long-term models, where people will have ample, affordable, and flexible methods of learning well beyond their university years. This will benefit both the individual, the companies who they work for, and ultimately society writ large.

Interesting theories abound from a range of thinkers and leaders from the various professions. In order to stay relevant and to truly prepare their learners, schools should participate in the conversation as well. For example:

“Alanna Cotton believes we will soon be working from anywhere. In fact, Cotton, head of mobile computing at Samsung, envisions a world in which virtual and augmented reality, Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and 5G will soon give us unimaginable freedom, even empowering doctors to help perform remote surgeries from afar.”

I happen to agree that AR and VR will impact how people learn and how people work, but I also believe that the power of communal gathering, community, and the human-0to-human connection will be essential for people to produce their best work and be their best selves.

Stephanie Kasriel, CEO of Upwork and the co-chair of the council on the future of work, gender and education writes:

Our education system is broken. The way we educate future generations no longer prepares them adequately for the skills and jobs of today. The idea that you study math and science and art in your youth as separate disciplines, and then work to solve real world problems in today’s economy, does not add up. Preparing students for tomorrow’s jobs requires breaking down the silos within education.

I’m optimistic that future education will become more flexible to suit the needs of a 21st century workforce. Project-based schools, many offered by technology experts, are cropping up. Examples include Holberton in San Francisco, founded by Sylvain Kalache and Julien Barbier; Wildflower School in Boston, founded by former Google exec Sep Kamvar; and Portfolio in New York, founded by Babur Habib and Doug Schachtel. These schools set the stage for what future education will look like. We will rethink the way talent is developed and deployed, and prepare students for a lifetime of learning better paced to the rapid evolution of skills.”

I agree with her sentiments. However, more importantly, our schools need to begin to embrace this conversation, partner with business and entrepreneurial leaders and open up this world to our young people in high school and university.

I spoke on this topic recently in Amsterdam at The Next Web (https://thenextweb.com/conference). This facilitated conversation focused on the future of learning and the ethical implications of exponential technologies. The main themes of the discussion were:

  1. Technology start-ups and behemoths alike must embed an understanding of ethics into their DNA as the grow and develop their products.
  2. Young people, especially millennials, will begin to demand a socially conscious workplace in truly transformative ways
  3. Learning in the traditional system no longer works well and it must be reengineered such that the 38-year-old has easy, affordable, and impactful ways to learn while growing a career and living a meaningful life.

In short, this is a dialogue that will have a long lasting, positive and meaningful impact in the lives of people. Let’s begin.

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