Five for the Future: Work

We read a lot here at EML. A lot. We’re contstantly scanning a variety of blogs, RSS feeds, Twitter feeds, e-mail newsletters and more in an attempt to track the latest and most relevant thinking about the modern world and the modern learner. While our emphasis is on the learning, we’re also highly interested in the changing contours of the futures our young learners will be inhabiting as they grow into adulthood. Every now and then, we’ll pull together what we call “Five for the Future,” an annotated list of what we think are five key posts or articles to get you thinking about the future and the implications for schools and classrooms today. In this edition, we look at the future of work.


2174504149_f3b840b380_bPredictions as to what the future of work will look like are all over the map, but almost all agree on one thing: The scope of jobs that will be available to our current crop of students will be vastly different, and technology is going to have a huge impact on the type of work our students will do. Already, the preparation students receive in the traditional school system is increasingly ineffective. Only 11% of business owners in a recent Gallup survey said that college graduates had the skills to be successful in the job market today. Imagine what that will be like tomorrow.

The implications for our current efforts in schools is huge. How do we prepare our students for a much more technologized workplace? What dispositions and skills do students need to be fully employable? And how does the changing definition of “employment” impact what we teach and how we teach it?

These are questions that should spur some important conversations among school leaders. And despite the ever present pressures of traditional testing, traditional parent expectations, and policies that support traditional outcomes and skills, it’s imperative that we engage in discussions about the non-traditional future of work regardless.

The following five resources provide a great starting point for these discussions. We’d suggest that, as many other schools we’ve worked with have done, putting together a group of interested parents, students, teachers, administrators and community members to read these (or other) resources and discuss their implications. Ultimately, these types of discussions may lead to a change in the vision for teaching and learning in the classroom, and will certainly inform the role that technology plays in the ways students learn in school.

The nature of work will change, and millions of people will require new skills.

We’re Heading Into a Jobless Future, No Matter What the Government Does – An increasing number of analysts have begun to float the idea that the future may require a radical rethinking of the work week, salaries, and the fundamental restructuring of the “job.” In this piece in the Washington Post, Vivek Wadhwa of Stanford makes both a utopian and dystopian case for what might be coming. He observes “The writing is clearly on the wall about what lies ahead. Yet even the most brilliant economists—and futurists—don’t know what to do about it.” However you read it, Wadhwa’s essay is packed with interesting thinking and questions.

Disruptive Technologies: Advances That Will Transform Life, Business, and the Global Economy (.pdf) – The folks at The McKinsey Global Institute are nice enough to just focus on those technologies that they think will have an impact over the next decade or so, and they limit their list to a dozen. Included are “automation of knowledge work” and “advance robotics” which in their view at least means that “the nature of work will change, and millions of people will require new skills” and that “the future for innovators and entrepreneurs looks bright.” The larger implications of all the technologies mentioned are worth discussing as well.

AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs – The Pew Research Center is one of the best sources for aggregating the thinking of the smartest of the smart, and this report is no exception. According to those experts surveyed, in ten years, robotics and artificial intelligence will “permeate wide segments of daily life.” While many of those surveyed express optimism for what’s to come, the difficult consensus for us is “Our educational system is not adequately preparing us for work of the future, and our political and economic institutions are poorly equipped to handle these hard choices.”

Dancing With Robots (.pdf) – In this extensive overview of the changing workplace, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane of Harvard and MIT, respectively, say that the problem with schools today is that they haven’t kept up with the increased complexity of the foundational skills needed for today’s (and tomorrow’s) economy. They write:  “We cannot predict with accuracy the occupations that will grow fastest in the future or the precise tasks that humans will perform. Nonetheless, it is a safe bet that the human labor market will center on three kinds of work: solving unstructured problems, working with new information, and carrying out non-routine manual tasks. The rest will be done by computers and low wage workers abroad.”

Design Your Own Profession – Princeton’s Anne Marie Slaughter says that “the world is coming apart in many interesting ways,” not the least of which is the world of work. Her advice to future job seekers is “Forget the titles on the org charts and the advertised positions. Design your own profession and convince employers that you are exactly what they need.”

Some questions to continue the conversation:

1. What new skills, literacies, and dispositions do our students now need as they face a much less structured future of work?
2. How are we developing an entrepreneurial mindset in our students?
3. To what extent are we helping students clarify and articulate their passions and pursue meaningful work within them?

Image credit: Mirko Tobias Schäfer

1 thought on “Five for the Future: Work”

  1. Megan F

    Hi Bruce & Will – Allow me to also recommend Nancy Hoffman’s recent piece for the Students at the Center Deeper Learning Research Series “Let’s Get Real” in which she argues that, in a period when very few teens have access to jobs, high school experience must incorporate gradual exposure to the workplace. Learning to work and learning about work are major milestones for adolescent social and cognitive development – and we currently provide little and prioritize it less. She also describes some policy approaches that could change this. http://www.jff.org/publications/let%E2%80%99s-get-real-deeper-learning-and-power-workplace – Rebecca E. Wolfe, SatC Director @rewolfeJFF rwolfe@jff.org

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