Workforce of the future
Educating for the Future
The workforce of the future will be dramatically different than it is today. Critical to our nation's success is preparing the future workforce to adapt to rapid change that already characterizes the job market (Canton, 2009). A talent war looms on the horizon which will find companies around the world racing to hire only the best educated candidates who easily adapt to change (Challenger, 2009). The Bureau of Labor Statistics identified the 30 fastest growth jobs for the ten years 2008-2018, all of which require postsecondary training or degree (2009). Employers today expect to hire more workers with advanced education over high school graduates (Casner-Lotto, 2006). Applicants will require a new skill set including, most importantly, mobility and flexibility. They will be able to compete only with a quality education. Companies will seek to hire only the best educated candidates who easily adapt to change. Survival of the fittest will characterize the future global job market. Every person, regardless of profession, will find it necessary to become a lifelong learner simply to remain employed in an ever-changing marketplace (Challenger, 2009). The harsh reality is that these coming changes are not news. Dramatic changes in the workforce were predicted as early as 1987 in Workforce 2000: Work and Workers for the 21st Century (Johnston et al., 1987), yet United States companies and workers are not ready (Canton, 2007). As companies outsource routine jobs to other countries, American students must be able to think outside the box and see possibilities others do not to secure the jobs that will remain in this country (National Center on Education and the Economy, 2007). An abundance of data exists as evidence that American public schools do not prepare students for the global job market despite attempts to repair the current educational system. However, little evidence exists to show that schools are making the dramatic changes in curriculum and teaching practices that will foster the development of applied skills as well as the knowledge base that employers require even today. Researchers and policy makers suggest that the way to safe education is to throw the current system out and create a new system designed to instruct, assess and develop “future-ready” (Canton, 2007) graduates ((National Center on Education and the Economy, 2007).
Employers identified professionalism, work ethic, teamwork and collaboration, oral communication, and foreign language as the five most important skills students need when they enter the workforce. Creativity and innovation become more important in the future, as well as the understanding of globalization and the economic impact. Today, most employers consider new entrants into the job market deficient in creativity and innovation skills. Additionally, the responsibility for acquiring these skills is shifting from the employer to the employee (Casner-Lotto, 2006).
Business executives struggle today to find, hire, and keep the best employees, and are preparing for the impending talent war, which will make hiring and keeping good employees even more difficult (Marquez, 2007). Hiring practices are already changing. Traditionally, employers have required industry-specific experience and knowledge as criteria for hiring, but now believe that process skills such as problem solving and critical thinking make successful employees (Marquez, 2007; Fletcher, 2007). Some companies emphasize such skills as collaboration, team work, creativity, and problem solving “. . . across geographies, disciplines, and industries” (Callier and Riordan, 2009). Others require applicants to participate in group case studies analyzing and synthesizing information culminating in presentations to interview committees (Callier and Riordan, 2009). The key point is that the applied skills applicants demonstrate in such group interviews emphasize acquiring and manipulating information rather than possessing memorized facts. Although critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration skills are not new, they are “newly important” in the context of job-readiness (Silva, 2010).
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills identified life and career skills, learning and innovation skills, information, media, and technology skills taught in core content areas and in relevant contexts as necessary learning outcomes for students to complete in a global economy. Additionally, the 21st Century Skills framework addresses the educational support systems, which include standards and assessment, curriculum and instruction, professional development and learning environments that must be in place to achieve the learning outcomes. No part of the framework stands alone (Framework for 21st Century Learning, 2009).
The failure of public schools to adequately prepare students for the workforce is a disservice to students, but also costs the country economically. Hanushek et al., reported that the economic growth of a nation is determined to a large degree by its students' cognitive abilities, number of years of school attained, test performance. Their research concluded that “. . . high levels of cognitive skill appear to play a major role in explaining international differences in economic growth” (2008). Schools and the quality of education matters. In 1989 the National Governors Association made a promise to the country that American students would lead all other countries in science and math by 2002, yet today U.S. student rank 9th and 15th ((National Center on Education and the Economy, 2007) respectively in these subjects (Vinovskis, 1999; Hanushek et al., 2008). Research suggests that had the promise been kept, the United States gross national product (GNP) would have increased 4.5 percent and the county would have regained its world leadership position (Hanushek et al., 2008).
If the United States is to secure its status as a world leader, educators must recognize the urgency for dramatic change in the American education system (Merriman and Nicoletti, 2008). However, because of past success, it is difficult for many to recognize the need for change (Kazmierczak and James, 2007). American schools are structured based on a model relevant 60 years ago when students required only a basic education and basic skills to be successful ((National Center on Education and the Economy, 2007). Classrooms desks were arranged in rows facing the teacher who delivered all knowledge to students. That model is no longer valid and does not foster development of applied skills. Unfortunately, most classrooms today have not changed. The failure of this model is reflected in math and science scores. The old system is no longer valid for the level of education students need. The report of the new commission on the skills of the American workforce advocates throwing out the old system and creating an entirely new system based on collaboration and creativity. The recommended new system would consist of corporations owned by teachers would operate the schools. School districts would contract with the corporation and function in an oversight capacity. Schools would be funded and held accountable by the state and performance incentives would exist as incentives to increase student achievement. Parents would be able to choose which school their children would attend. Teacher pay and benefits would be comparable to corporate pay and benefits providing incentive for the best graduates to pursue careers in teaching ((National Center on Education and the Economy, 2007).
Efforts to reform the current educational system resulted in a trend in education for standards-based, content-specific curriculum determined by the state culminating in high-stakes tests which define the success or failures of schools and teachers and create students adept at test taking, but lacking real-world problem solving skills (Fletcher, 2010). Business leaders represented by Verizon's national program education and technology program director Al Browne express urgency for educational reform, specifically, “Corporations need to scream, write, and talk about the need to change the curriculum (Fletcher, 2010). “The national focus on content over process - in our K-12 schools . . . - does little to encourage the kinds of flexible understanding our youth and our teachers need . . .” (Callier and Riordan, 2009). Redesigning instruction to meet students' needs can be a relatively easy task if we pay attention to the things students do outside of class and make instruction relevant to their world (Callier and Riordan, 2009). In the 21st century education must be stimulating, motivating, germane, and responsive to the needs of students.
Math and science skills must improve for the United States to be a leader in innovation. The problem is that American culture values many jobs before those requiring math skills. “In China, Bill Gates is seen as a rock star,” but American students idolize athletes, and love their cell phones, iPods and computers, Precious few see value in developing the science and math skills that would allow them to invent the next big thing (AACU, 2007). For them, math and science are not cool. Previous generations placed a premium on education which allowed the country to ascend to world leadership. Unless such a premium on education is once again prevalent in American society, the country risks losing its status and becoming unable to compete in the global job market (Merriman and Nicoletti, 2008). “American schools and teachers need to foster greater intrinsic motivation in students so that learners place a greater value on academic achievement and excellence” (Merriman and Nicoletti, 2008). Employers also recognize that current assessment practices do not encourage development of the skills that students need to enter the workforce. Content specific multiple choice tests neither adequately assess, nor foster the development of 21st century skills (AACU, 2008). In contrast to current assessment practices, assessments that measure 21st century skills as well as content knowledge are being developed which will provide a more realistic picture of student achievement. One example is the College Work Readiness Assessment, a problem based assessment which requires students to provide a written solution to real problems based on information provided in a variety of documents (Silva, 2010).
Because all citizens are global citizens, schools must present content from a global perspective and implement teacher and learning strategies framed in a global context (Merriman and Nicoletti, 2008). Education must become intentionally interdisciplinary and problem based to develop advanced intellectual skills. To achieve the level of knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the future, educators must adapt to the needs of students in order to develop students who learn intentionally and can apply concepts across disciplines. Today's students learn both in and out of the classroom. They want to be actively engaged in discovery and learning instead of passive participants (Chubin et al., 2008). Education must become more interdisciplinary with opportunities for students to connect content knowledge through problem based learning. Schools must cease grouping students according to their perceived capabilities. Curriculum must be designed around problems rather than exclusively focused on content. Educators and school boards ignore the leadership of students who offer insight to the kind of change that must occur in school. Outside of school, students build essential skills on their own. They collaborate through social networks, create and participate in virtual worlds, and develop problem solving and critical thinking skills through gaming. Schools must allow students to stay connected at school to encourage learning beyond the classroom and provide opportunities for them to connect their learning with their experiences (Callier and Riordan, 2009).
There is evidence of change today. Across the nation some schools are getting it right. For example, California's New Technology High School offers a problem based curriculum with students assessed on “ . . . content standards, collaboration, critical thinking, oral communication, written communication, career preparation, citizenship and ethics, and technological literacy” (Fletcher, 2010). Other schools have created career academies based on real world experience for students through internships with local business. Career academy students develop work ethic and collaboration skills in addition to job specific skills, and graduate better prepared to find jobs than traditional students (Lewis, 2010).
There is ample evidence that the workforce of the future will be dramatically different than it is today, and that schools fail to prepare students. A rallying cry has been sent from futurists a variety of organizations that students must learn essential applied skills to ensure their success. Therefore, it is critical that schools immediately redesign curriculum and practices with a global perspective. Such change requires visionary leaders who understand the importance of globalization, are committed to global education, and can lead teachers to the same realization (Merriman and Nicoletti, 2007). Schools exist to produce productive citizens, yet they function in isolation from grade level to grade level and subject to subject without apparent concern for student success after their school careers. More must be done to communicate the sense of urgency to reform education to meet the needs of our young people both now in the future. The cost to our students and our country is much too high. Education leaders have traditionally allowed teachers time to adjust to change. Phasing in reform is not an option. Change must be drastic and immediate. In 1989 the nation's governors made a promise of educational excellence exceeding all other countries, excellence which we are still awaiting over 20 years later. If the idea of drastic reform is still being considered 20 years from now, the race to the top will be long lost.