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Need a Job, Invent It!

Reading several research posts providing critical and refreshing perspectives on the challenge question (e.g. Are schools teaching young people what they need? how we move from money driven to value driven jobs? ), I thought of a NY Times article I read a year or so ago, which suggested than rather than looking for a job, young people should learn (and be taught) how to invent one.

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Tony Friedman in an op-Ed in the NY Times entitled " Need a Job? Invent It!" raised a number of important questions which are very relevant to this challenge. 

Friedman starts by setting up the stage noting how "there is increasingly no such thing as a high-wage, middle-skilled job — the thing that sustained the middle class in the last generation". He then asks the question to the Harvard's education expert Tony Wagner what do young people need today to find a job. 

Tony Wagner who wrote a book “ Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World”  argues that the goal of education "should not be to make every child “college ready” but “innovation ready” — ready to add value to whatever they do."

He replied to Friedman's question:

 "Today (...) because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’ ”

Wagner in fact argued that in today's world where finding a job is so difficult, young people should be prepared to invent their job.
According to Wagner, for this new approach to employment or work, young people need to know a few things:

“Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course,” he said. “But they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.”

Wagner then raised an important implication for education, as he argues tha most K-12 schools and colleges are not necessarily adding value or teaching skills that matter in the marketplace. Not only, kids and young people might not be taught the right skills, but this leads to a decrease in interest and motivation. In fact, Wagner argues that the more kids stay in schools, the less motivated they are and he therefore suggests a reform of education that "brings the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”

Wagner proposes Finland as a model:

“Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world,” he said, “and it is the only country where students leave high school ‘innovation-ready.’  They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have a choice of many electives — all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing. In the U.S., 500 K-12 schools affiliated with Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning Initiative and a consortium of 100 school districts called EdLeader21 are developing new approaches to teaching 21st-century skills. There are also a growing number of ‘reinvented’ colleges like the Olin College of Engineering, the M.I.T. Media Lab and the ‘D-school’ at Stanford where students learn to innovate.”

All these might be interesting examples to investigate during this research phase.


When I read this article, it reminded me a conversation I had more than 10 years ago with the director of the Career Center at INSEAD who told me how she believed that very few people would keep the same career all their lifes (as it used to be) and that people would have to be creative and learn to have multiple jobs - either at the same time, or over their life time. This seems even truer today than at the time.

Key insights for this challenge:

1. Shifting the question from "finding a job" to "inventing a job": this is an important reframing that will open opportunities for young people but it should also inform how we teach in colleges (and probably earlier) as well as how career centers are organized in colleges (focusing on resume writings and applying to positions). 

2.  Motivation is crucial: While I don't necessarily agree with the solutions proposed by Wagner in terms of teaching style, I think he raises a major issue regarding the need to motivate young people right from the school level.

3. Teaching how to think: Content changes and can be learnt; what is more crucial is the ability to think - to be analytical and creative at the same time; a constant questioning of the status quo; all important dimensions when it comes to learning and adapting to new contexts. 

4. Youth employment involves rethinking our education system, our view on employement, or work more broadly and thinking of ways to allow young people to be motivated / passionate (and sometimes it starts by giving them a voice). 

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Photo of Robin Anderson

It’s very fresh and interesting thought. When I needed a job, I even could not think about this. I as usual searched needed position. I created a resume with the help of https://cvwritingshop.com/ and waited for an invitation to an interview. But this is a new and innovative method of finding a job. I think a lot of people will use it.

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