Needed for all: education for losing job(s)

Must-read Linkedin column by Heather E. McGowan entitled Preparing Students to Lose Their Job. It is the best description I have read on the need to change the mission of education from one that prepares people for a job to one that prepares people for continuous job loss.

Largely because of machines increasingly doing the work now done by humans, we are now in an economy where losing a job will almost certainly be routine. McGowan writes:

As machine intelligence advances, humans will offload work to machines, and then adapt, re-skill, and redeploy to new, uniquely human work. That process of adaptation requires a foundation in learning agility and a mindset that prepares them for change. You might think of it this way: Mindsets are like operating systems and skill sets are applications. Higher education and workforce development have operated like application development; skills are defined in curriculum and applied to the student. This approach is reaching its useful end. Just like an old computer becomes obsolete, so will this application transfer process. Instead, schools need to focus on providing students with an operating system upgrade, developing fundamental abilities to acquire and shed rapidly changing skills requirements (a metaphoric app update). This foundation instills the ability and agency to continuously learn and adapt. This is a big shift in how we think about preparing a workforce.

At Michigan Future we have used for years the analogy that 40-year career success will look a lot more like rock climbing than climbing a career ladder. And that the foundation skills for rock climbers are the 6Cs described best in the book Becoming Brilliant: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creativity and confidence. Not occupation-specific skills.

McGowan’s analogy that broad adaptability skills are the operating system and occupation-specific skills are the applications is terrific too. She continues:

The right mindset provides safe harbor in a sea of disruption. It enables graduates to make sense of shifting context and to recast their story so that they can march back to relevance. This continuous reinvention will dominate the future of work, and developing empathy for yourself and the grit to manage your internal critic will separate those who are successful in the future with those who struggle.

Exactly! In our new state policy agenda report we include a quote from U.S. Senator Ben Sasse:

We are not talking about the underpinnings of all of that which is the transformation in the economy and the nature of work from stable lifelong jobs to unstable, occasional, part time, flex jobs where everyone is going to have to become a lifelong learner. … And we are not wrestling with any of those questions and neither political party has a response.

McGowan’s column is wrestling with these big changes. Her answer is a fundamental reinvention of the purpose of education. We would argue from birth through college. An education system designed to prepare all students for a career of multiple job losses (to be a rock climber), rather than one designed to prepare students for a first job (to be a ladder climber), will be a completely different education than the one students are receiving today. It will require a complete redesign of both what we teach (curriculum) and how we teach (pedagogy). The time to get started on that transformation is now.


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