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Is Education About Getting a Job?

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About 60 percent of jobs ten years from now haven't been created yet.  That's a rule of thumb, compliments of Thomas Frey, jobs editor for The Futurist

In one sense, that can sound like a threat.  Will I become obsolete?  In another sense, it's an opportunity to imagine, invent, innovate, and both discover and use our entrepreneurial skills.  Yes, that means each of us might carry within our creative genius the seeds of a whole new industry or cluster of jobs.

In fact, another futures thinker, Cynthia Wagner, suggests, "One of the easiest ways to begin thinking about future careers is to focus on what may be a problem in the future and invent a job that solves it."    

Consider this perspective.  Employability skills are an innate part of education.  Yet, seeing education solely as a route to a job in the current economy comes up short.  Any specific job responsibilities often require further training.  That training is generally essential, but it's not a substitute for a sound overall education.  Both are important. 

Think for a minute about the education dividend.  As people 25 and older moved into the Great Recession in 2008, high school graduates made about $9,500 more a year than those without a diploma.  People with a Bachelor's degree or higher, again on average, made between $47,700 and $155,000 more a year than those without a high school diploma. 

Consider this stark reality:  We moved from an Agricultural Age into an Industrial Age and are now moving well into a Global Knowledge/Information Age, even an Age of Knowledge Creation and Breakthrough Thinking.  Jack and Jill, who needed specific skills to deck a car body on a chassis in 1950 now have to be robotics technicians.

In 1840, only 17 percent of the population held service job during a time when people lived in greater isolation and had to do things for themselves.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) now projects that by 2020, 79.9 percent of us will be working in service jobs.  The world changes around us.  That means we all need the resilience and adaptability that comes with a sound education.

What are some of those employability skills?  A 1991 skills in the workforce, SCANS Report from the U.S. Department of Labor identified basic skills, thinking skills, personal qualities, and work competencies.  Forbes Magazine has added: communication, building relationships, decision making, and leadership, plus planning and management skills.  The Conference Board of Canada suggests that collaboration is fast becoming central to employability.  Of course, the list could go on endlessly as we consider jobs and careers in both the public and private sectors.

I appreciate the thought provoking perspective of Damian LaCroix, superintendent of Howard-Suamico School District in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and a member of Futures Council 21 for our Twenty-One Trends book.  He observes, "Creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, innovativeness, communication, collaboration, and citizenship will emerge as more vital than natural resources, such as coal, natural gas, and lumber."  That reality, he adds, "will cause a shift in power toward countries that esteem and invest in education."  LaCroix declares that, as we move into a new era, the most successful countries will be those where "teachers are regarded as nation builders."

Expect a growing demand for personal care and home health aides as well as registered nurses.  Demand will escalate for qualified people to work in data analytics, neuroscience, and nano- and biotechnology.  Plan on growing job possibilities for superconducting technologists and electro-chemists.  They are the ones who will lead us toward greater battery capacity and a smart grid for our electrical distribution system. 

We'll see a premium for inventors, engineers, technicians, entrepreneurs, and ethicists in energy, the environment, robotics, and many other fields.  Couple those possibilities with privacy managers, octogenarian service providers, and 3-D printing engineers.    

Consider the rise of the home office, where people will need to be prepared to manage their own talents, time, and budgets.  Then ask, "What are the implications for education?"

Educators, including counselors and career specialists, are on the front lines of the future.  They know the crucial role all need to play as we guide students and our communities toward clusters of job opportunities, emerging careers, and even economic growth and development.  Most are insisting that the future be built on a sound foundation that is invigorated by lifelong education. 

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