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The future of work and what it means for school

Interviews with 12 young people working at innovative companies in the Bay Area: how they've learned to succeed and how school can help

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As part of a project to redefine college and career readiness in education, my colleague and I interviewed 12 young people working at innovative companies in the Bay Area. Our goal was to understand what innovative working environments look like and what skills and attributes are needed to be successful. The idea is to use this information to help schools think about the future of work and what they can do to better prepare their students for that future.

The economy and workplace are changing rapidly, and we need to rethink the ways in which we design educational systems to keep pace. As more work becomes automated, its the truly human skills - creativity, problem-solving, empathy - that matter most for success in the workplace, not to mention for life satisfaction generally. So in thinking about transforming education from a mechanistic system of efficiency to a system that optimizes for people, we gleaned some insights from these 12 conversations we think are important to consider.

A student will likely never be fully prepared for any challenge they face, whether at work or in personal lives. A programming language taught in school may not be the one used 10 or even 5 years later in the workplace. Getting comfortable with change and ambiguity is key. Our interviewees talked often of changing goals, priorities, and organizational structures.

Given that, how can we prepare students to deal with change and ambiguity successfully? The terms growth mindset and lifelong learning seem clichéd at this point, but that's really what we're getting at here. Students must be prepared to face unstructured challenges by asking the right questions, and thinking analytically and creatively about solutions even if they’ve had no prior experience. Our interviewees often had to teach themselves new skills to come to a solution, or find the right expert to consult.

This requires both confidence, to believe in oneself to overcome a challenge, and vulnerability, to know when to seek out help from those more experienced. These "soft skills" can and should be trained in the context of school.

Furthermore, the fundamental structure of these workplaces was the team, not the individual, so social skills, especially communication, were key to getting things done and thriving in a team-based setting.

Finally, we found that underlying most if not all the interviewees’ motivation to face new challenges at work was a genuine curiosity to learn and to improve. Finding ways to encourage this curiosity in school by making learning meaningful and rewarding will help students seek out and overcome intellectual challenges throughout their lives.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

When we think of career readiness, there is a disconnect between what we mean and what we actually measure. Colleges like to report the percentage of graduates who are employed within the first year of graduating. But driving towards that metric is harmful. When thinking about readiness, we must prioritize educating the whole person - one who is able to think independently and critically in a complex and ambiguous world.

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Photo of Lucy Chen

Earlier CEO of Linkedin Jeff Weiner has discussed the discredit of college degree value due to vacational training like LinkedIn lEARNING.

I think the discussion around pedagogy is off the rail. However it is an interesting design challenge down the road to change a. learning content platform (netflix of education) to b. a learning tool that would actively motivate life-long learners. This is what I was researching about: motivational learning: how to manage knowledge to increase learners’ sense of intelligence? etc. These learning might lead to jobs, or might not. In our nationwide research, not all LinkedIn Learning users are JOB-oriented or come to LiL because they want to switch jobs. An even larger portion of Lynda.com learners understand the values of learning itself. it is not like what the article says: these platforms are for low-skill training.

Lastly, regarding the “threat” for college. In-school and out-school teaching has fundamental difference regarding pedagogy. I personally think High education should never be equated with job training. For skill-training, this is where institutions like General Assembly gets to live; LinkedIn Learning/ Lynda is not there yet. It still has an emphasis on learning, altho LinkedIn has to connect this learning to potential economic opportunities, due to its mission and brand. In a recent interview, Jeff Weiner did share his opinions on college degrees are overrated in today’s economy. I only agree with him partially. The rise of vocational training frees people in a lot of means. When people are given such channel to be ready for the employment market, we can have higher probability to free ourselves in schools for the pursuit of knowledge.

LinkedIn learning has a lot of potential. But I think it is just one of the tools learners in modern times can use.

Photo of Brian LaDuca

Christa, if there is even a pique of interest let us know over at University of Dayton’s Collaboration Accelerator

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Christa!

Thank you for a great post and the work you have done. It is very much appreciated!

I hope to hear your ideas on how to deliver this - 'students must be prepared to face unstructured challenges by asking the right questions, and thinking analytically and creatively about solutions even if they’ve had no prior experience.'

Could these existing solutions help with this?

University of Dayton’s Collaboration Accelerator 
Hackathons Broaden Horizons and Develop Problem Solvers 
Also, would this be a better matrix for assessing the skills of students graduating higher education institutions - Creating a Framework for Sharing Our Story: Meaningful Assessment of Real Student Learning ?