How far is the future?

Everywhere you look, there’s an article about preparing students for the future.

Read those articles carefully: They almost never specify what time in the future they’re talking about.

The timing is important.

Laura Arnold, the associate commissioner of Kentucky’s Department of Education who is cited in a recent article in Education Week, hinted at why it’s important to know how far into the future someone is thinking:

In helping turn Kentucky into a national leader in career-and-technical education, Arnold has used data about local labor-market trends to guide decisions about what workforce-development programs schools should offer.

But it’s hard work: Employers tend to be focused on their immediate needs. Schools have a hard time developing courses around medium-term opportunities, like robot maintenance. And the long term is just so uncertain.

“We don’t have reliable data on jobs 20 years out,” Arnold said. “The best we can do is create strong career pathways and hope they evolve.”

Resources for seeing into the future

Here are a few articles that educators and community leaders may find useful in preparing for themselves and their students for the workplace of 2017 and beyond:

Could a robot do your job? This 2014 story in USA Today looked at the likelihood of jobs being replaced by robots. Their conclusion of was that half of all jobs—and 70% of low-skill jobs—may be replaced by robots or other technology by the decade between 2024 and 2034.

That means half the jobs available for the students who entered kindergarten in 2012 will be gone by time they graduate.

Can a robot do your job? This 2015 article by John C. Goodman in Forbes dips into three books that discuss the future from technological, economic and sociological perspectives. The quotes Goodman selects should scare you.

From janitors to surgeons, virtually no jobs will be immune to the impact of robots in the future.  Whether someone retains a job will depend on whether their skills “are a complement to the computer or a substitute for it. ”

Will a robot take my job? (2017) Plug in your job title and learn the likelihood your job will be done by a robot. The predictions are take a long-term vision of the future, looking ahead to thirty, forty or fifty years from now.

©2017 Linda Aragoni

Policy won’t lead change; teachers must

Seen from above, graduate's black mortarboards.

A piece by Mary Alice McCarthy in The Atlantic last week has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention. McCarthy’s thesis is in her title: “America Needs to Get Over its Reverence for the Bachelor’s Degree.”

She uses the experiences of her two nephews to show two equally unacceptable options for students who don’t want to move from the high school classroom to the college classroom.

One of her nephews went into a culinary arts training program at at technical college. Then he went to New York City restaurants where he did well and got great experience.

All his training and experience afforded him no credit toward the college degree he’d need to work in management, where he’d earn more and which could lead to operating his own restaurant.

The other nephew went, reluctantly, to college, eventually graduated, but without having developed any true college-level skills. He’s unemployed, unqualified for white collar jobs, and untrained for blue-collar ones.

McCarthy points out that, unlike America, many other developed countries have career pathways that start with impressive vocational training programs.  She writes:

The issue isn’t that a career that starts with technical training can’t lead to more advanced learning and skills. It is that our higher-education policies simply don’t allow for it—and that’s just a failure of imagination.

I agree with McCarthy that America’s love affair with the bachelor’s degree is absurd.

I entirely agree with her that the traditional BA program makes no sense for millions of students who need experience to ground their academic study. I’ve had hundreds of them in my freshman composition classes.

I also can see how the “upside down” bachelor’s degree, which has the career training component  before the general education courses, would work for some students who are not classroom oriented.

I just don’t see it working for sufficient numbers of students.

I think there are just too many students for whom traditional general education courses remain unconnected to their vocational interests. The bulk of students I’ve had wouldn’t see any more value in college composition after completing two years of vocational training than they would have seen their first semester of college.

I don’t disagree with McCarthy’s point that American education policy is out of whack; however, I don’t believe policy changes alone are the answer.

Policy changes don’t necessarily result in practice changes necessary for successful implementation of the policies. The whole Common Core debacle is testimony to that.

No matter where the academic  gen ed courses fall in students’ post-secondary training, if post-secondary teachers are not equipped to teach the masses of students who need a college degree solely for the financial reasons McCarthy describes, conditions are not going to improve any time soon.

Post-secondary teachers in America are split between “vocational types” and “academic types.”  Both types would need experiences to enable them—collaboratively, if not individually—to craft assignments that guide students to discover connections between general education and their careers.

When such assignments are given today, it’s mainly by accident.

Unless academic faculty are encouraged (encouraged is the politically correct term for required) to build assignments for the career and technical education students, those assignments won’t be created.

Unless vocational faculty collaborate with them, the academics will make a mess of the assignments.

And if all faculty don’t create assignments that encourage (that PC term!) students to figure out how the career courses and the gen ed courses complement each other, students won’t see any connection between the two.

Even without policy changes, an imaginative faculty could begin the process of collaborating on new assignments that give career oriented students a basis on which to learn more advanced skills and develop new interest areas in the future.

Such collaborative experience might even spark  significant changes for students, faculty, and their institutions.

Photo Credit, David Niblack, Imagebase.net.

Live-streaming video for career exploration

In our rush to get students “college and career ready,” I wonder if we’re not overlooking the importance of first-hand experience doing the kinds of work done in the career fields that students think may interest them.

career options list

One of my cousins was very interested in art and design. He enrolled in the architecture program at Syracuse University. One of the first things he learned was that he absolutely hated doing the mathematical calculations that architecture requires.

He changed career paths, became a science illustrator.

Such vocational changes are not uncommon.

Medicine and law have high first-job dropout rates, far higher than the commonly bemoaned beginning teacher attrition rates.

Here’s part of an abstract of a study about law firm attrition:

law-exitBecause students have grown up watching doctors and lawyers on television, they think they know what doctors and lawyers do. After graduation, when they discover the not-suitable-for-prime-time elements of their chosen careers, they may decide they should have become shoe designers or forklift operators instead.

In a Forbes article about why so many physicians regret their career choice, Howard Forman, a professor at the Yale School of Management who studies healthcare leadership, says:

If young people pursue the profession with full knowledge of what’s in store,  they’ll be more satisfied than if they believe they’re going to be thanked every 15 minutes.

Perhaps instead of live-streaming video of raptors’ nests in the wild 24 hours a day, we could steam images of CPAs and home health aides and computer technicians’ work sites (as this webcam of an Arlington, Texas, airfield does once a minute every day [[broken link removed 2016-01-22]) to give students a glimpse into the real workplace.

OK, it’s a crazy idea.

What do you suggest instead?