Are You Selling Day-Old Doughnuts?

Every year our degrees “expire” in relevancy and timeliness if we don’t refresh each class with an eye to the future, Ray Schroeder argues.

January 23, 2019
 

We all know the tech expectations of new hires have changed rapidly this century. While many of the soft skills of communication, leadership, critical thinking and social sense remain relevant today, a whole host of technological infrastructure changes continue at a rapid rate. The tools, the cloud, the networks and their capabilities that we use are rapidly changing. Leadership decisions are informed far more by data and analysis than instinct and intuition.

This raises the question of whether we are best educating our students for jobs that will be in rapid decline, or no longer exist, when they graduate. How can we predict the future career environment? We can’t, with 100 percent certainty. But we can, and must, carefully and continuously share the trends with our students so they are prepared for the emerging environment. Columbia University, along with UPCEA, has opened a call for papers on the very topic of the future of work and its implications for higher education. I encourage you to submit your thoughts, and I look forward to seeing the results from that work.

One good place to start looking now is the 2018 World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report. This 147-page report from WEF is full of well-researched data, trends and predictions. It is deeply valuable for planning for the future. For example, some of the key tech influences it sees:

Four specific technological advances -- ubiquitous high-speed mobile internet; artificial intelligence; widespread adoption of big data analytics; and cloud technology -- are set to dominate the 2018-2022 period as drivers positively affecting business growth. They are flanked by a range of socio-economic trends driving business opportunities in tandem with the spread of new technologies, such as national economic growth trajectories; expansion of education and the middle classes, in particular in developing economies; and the move towards a greener global economy through advances in new energy technologies.

The top trending skills the report suggests in the next two years will be:

  • Analytical thinking and innovation
  • Active learning and learning strategies
  • Creativity, originality and initiative
  • Technology design and programming
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Complex problem solving
  • Leadership and social influence
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Reasoning, problem solving and ideation
  • Systems analysis and evaluation

Are we integrating these skills into our learning outcomes map? Have we engaged professionals and leaders in the field to regularly advise us on the local trends and needs they see? To the extent we fail to educate ourselves in these areas and adjust our curricula, we are cheating our students -- all of our students, undergraduate, graduate, professional and continuing -- of perhaps the most valuable assets they expect us to provide: currency and relevancy.

The first step is that we, ourselves, must be informed. A second challenge we face is to assure that our students are asking the right questions and getting reliable information about their futures. One tool I found is a recent podcast by Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist, best-selling author and co-founder of string field theory. His guest is Tracey Wilen, a researcher and speaker on the impact of technology on society, work and careers. Wilen is a former visiting scholar at Stanford University who has held leadership positions at Apple, HP and Cisco Systems and is a prolific writer and speaker on careers of the future. In this half-hour program, they address jobs of the future for college students, including midcareer students.

This could be an excellent stimulus for a discussion in an introductory class, or a faculty development meeting, or an open forum for students online or on campus.

I recommend that the WEF report be placed on the computer of every dean, department chair and student adviser. And I recommend that that we all listen to the podcast by Kaku and Wilen to see if this might be worth sharing with our students to stimulate thought and discussion, as well as keep an eye on the work by UPCEA and Columbia University. These actions are foundational to beginning to teach to the future. Your students will thank you in the years ahead!

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