- The state of today’s jobs market;
- Where the new generation of jobs will come from; and
- The types of skills these jobs will require.
This blog examines some of the conference’s follow-on conclusions, particularly around:
- The capabilities and limitations of colleges and universities in helping students learn these skills;
- How they will have to evolve to accomplish these goals; and
- The type of cooperation—with primary and secondary schools, businesses, non-profits and governments—that will be required for colleges and universities to prepare knowledge workers for jobs that will be increasingly defined by the combination of globalization, technology and the growth of self-employment.
The Changing Role of Colleges and Universities
Colleges and universities are generally viewed as the primary, although certainly not exclusive source of many of the skills—both functional and foundational—that will be required for tomorrow’s jobs. True, the foundations for these skills must certainly be laid in secondary and even primary schools. Businesses, meanwhile, must help employees hone and refresh these skills. Most importantly, individuals will have to take primary responsibility for attending the schools, selecting the classes, choosing an employer and selecting the combination of extra-curricular activities that will help them develop these skills. For most, however, post-secondary institutions will remain as the single most important linchpin in the individual’s education-to-employment pipeline.
Many conference participants, including a number of university professors and administrators, concluded that few schools were currently fulfilling their missions. Their indictments and recommendations were generally in line with those of Clayton Christensen’s team’s February 2011 Disrupting College report.
Thousands of colleges, suffering from a type of “Harvard-envy”, short-change students by trying to simultaneously accomplish three primary missions: knowledge creation (research); knowledge proliferation (teaching); and helping prepare students for careers. While Harvard and perhaps one or two dozen other universities have the endowments and the cash flow to fund quality required for each, the vast majority of schools lack the resources and the skills to perform each of these tasks well.
Rather than trying to do all, most schools should focus on their core missions of knowledge proliferation (teaching) and preparing students for careers. They must also do so more cost-effectively, delivering quality education in a way that students and their families can afford without going deeply into debt. This will require the use of additional, more leverageable sources of learning, such as that from peers and tutors, and especially from learning technologies—including the potentially disruptive enabling technology of online learning. This will help free instructors from creating and even delivering lectures, provide them with insight into individual student needs and allow them to focus more time on addressing each student’s unique needs.
These schools, however, must also do much more—not only to prepare students for careers, but also to make them more “employment-ready” upon graduation. This requires deeper coordination with the private sector, not only in identifying the skills that are required for success in their companies, but also in providing more opportunities for “experiential learning” in which students have the opportunity to combine classroom, book and online education with experience in working on real-world problems, both in school (as in inter-disciplinary research centers) and in companies (as through apprenticeships and internships). Schools must determine how to give credit for these real-world experiences and also to apply (once they are developed and generally agreed upon) quantifiable metrics that assess educational outcomes. They should also, according to the Institute for the Future and my own research, specifically integrate the teaching—and especially the learning and reinforcement—of variants of the Institute for the Future’s ten foundational skills specifically into college curricula.
Cross Domain Educational Collaboration
Although colleges and universities are certainly critical links in the education to employment pipeline, they are not the only contributors. Primary and secondary schools must teach basic skills and provide a solid foundation for and passion for lifelong learning. They should also extend their current missions to provide solid groundings in the types of foundational skills that all employees—especially knowledge workers—will require in the new economy.
The private sector also plays a critical, but unfortunately diminishing role in educating their workforces. But although overall private sector investment in employee education rose slightly in 2010 to $52.8 billion, or $1,041 per learner, it has generally been falling since a high of more than $60 billion in 1999. Even so, a number of companies including Boeing and IBM (both of whom presented on their employee development efforts at the conference) continue to invest heavily (see, for example, my 2009 report in IBM’s Role in Creating the Workforce of the Future).
These and a number of other companies also work closely with schools, and invest in them—from primary to post-secondary—to help them develop curricula, fund teacher and instructor training, and develop workshops and internships to provide students with real-world learning experiences. Many companies, as discussed extensively in my blog, have partnered with secondary schools to improve IT education and train teachers on effective use of technology, with community colleges to prepare prospective employees for specific jobs and with universities to develop courses, curricula and entire degree programs.
Although such bilateral partnerships are certainly important, the conference concluded these are just the start. Corporations and schools must also partner with:
- Foundations, such as Gates and Illuminata, to define desired course outcomes and develop metrics;
- Non-profits, such as the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (both of which presented at the conference) to create pathways to help individuals create the educational experiences required to prepare for and advance their careers; and
- State and local governments to identify the types of businesses they wish to attract, identify the resources and skills that will be required to attract employers, encourage and help local schools provide the required education and training and ideally, create online databases that help students and workers identify jobs and careers that will be available, the types of skills that will be required, and how these skills can best be learned and developed.
Although the Federal Government could, at least in theory, play an important role in identifying, mapping resources and coordinating efforts, the reality is that most economic development and education policy is done at a state and especially a local, rather than a national level. The most effective education-to-employment pipelines will probably require close cooperation by and deep commitments from mayors, university presidents, local business executives and local Chambers of Commerce.
U.S. colleges and universities must undergo huge changes if
they are to prepare graduate for tomorrow’s jobs—and do so at a cost that both
the students and the county can afford. For many, it will require a fundamental
rethink of their missions and their established practices. It will also require
much closer collaboration with the businesses that are likely to hire these