Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Trends I'd Like My Future Principal to Consider: Jobs Are Disappearing, But Work Isn't

I touched on employment in a previous post in this series, but wanted to revisit it briefly after reading this article:
This is all a part of the transition toward a postindustrial economy.

Jeff Dachis, Internet consulting legend and founder of Razorfish, coined the phrase “everything that can be digital, will be.” To the extent that the world becomes more digital, it will also become more global. To the extent that the economy remains physical, business may become more local.

The question is, what is the future of work, and what can we do about it? 
This article touches on a subject that appears to be surprisingly absent in our discussions of school reform. Much of the current rhetoric around reform talks about preparing students for a globally competitive world of work, but seems to completely ignore the nature of what that work will look like.
Work will always be about finding what other people want and need, and then creating practical solutions to fulfill those desires. Our basic assumptions about how work gets done are what’s changing. It’s less about having a fixed location and schedule and more about thoughtful and engaged activity. Increasingly, this inspiration can happen anytime, anyplace.

There is a blurring of distinctions among work, play, and professional development. The ways that we measure productivity will be less focused on time spent and more about the value of the ideas and the quality of the output. People are also going to have a much better awareness of when good work is being done.

The old model of work provided an enormous level of predictability. In previous eras, people had a sense of job security and knew how much they would earn on a monthly basis. This gave people a certain sense of confidence in their ability to maintain large amounts of debt. The consumer economy thrived on this system for more than half a century. Location-based and formal jobs will continue to exist, of course, but these will become smaller slices of the overall economy.

The new trends for the workplace have significantly less built-in certainty. We will all need to rethink, redefine, and broaden our sources of economic security. To the extent that people are developing a broader range of skills, we will also become more resilient and capable of adapting to change. (emphasis mine)
I worry that much of what we currently do in schools is prepare students for the old model of work, for a world of work that is predictable, educating them for the routine instead of the novel:
It's easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel. . .

And then keep on challenging yourself, because learning doesn't end with graduation. In fact, in the real world, while the answers to the odd-numbered problems are not in the back of the textbook, the tests are all open book, and your success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free market. Learning, it turns out, is a lifelong major.
I think many folks are looking at our current world and thinking we are in a time of massive upheaval, but then things will return to “normal.” But what if this is the new normal?
The new norm is for people to maintain and develop skill sets in multiple simultaneous careers. In this environment, the ability to learn is something of a survival skill. Education never stops, and the line between working and learning becomes increasingly blurred.

 . . . Fixed hours, fixed location, and fixed jobs are quickly becoming a thing of the past for many industries, as opportunities become more fluid and transient. The 40-hour workweek is becoming less relevant as we see more subcontractors, temps, freelancers, and self-employed. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that these “contingent workers” now make up a third of the workforce.
I'd like to see my future principal lead our school community in a discussion of what this means in terms of how we're preparing our students for the world of work. I'd also like to see a discussion that might be even more important – is the basic structure of how we are educating our students compatible with the emerging structure of the world of work? Are 59-minute classes, with bells that ring and fixed curricula, with grades and class ranks, with high-stakes tests (that are most certainly not “open book” much less “open Internet”) and rigidly set schedules really the best way to go about this?
Imagine an office [school] where meetings [classes] are optional. Nobody talks about how many hours [credits] they worked last week. People have an unlimited amount of vacation and paid time off. Work [learning] is done anytime and anywhere, based entirely on individual [student] needs and preferences. Finally, employees [students and staff] at all levels are encouraged to stop doing anything that is a waste of their time, their customers’ time, or the company’s time. [bracketed comments mine]
 I'd like my future principal to help us imagine.


  1. Karl - Recently found your blog. Great stuff - I find myself nodding in agreement a lot. Really like the vision of your latest post. Very valid points RE what the work world is (and will be) like.

    I'm an engineer turned teacher, and can agree that industry is increasing seeking an "on demand" workforce. Who wants pay full time salaries if a particular project only requires 25 hrs/wk of work? So, the trick is how do workers make themselves available to fill up a full work week? Maybe entrepreneurial endeavors? Maybe foster skill sets in multiple industries?

    I agree that K12 schools should work toward these ends, but how can we reconcile a new K12 approach with the "old guard" silos in our university system? In other words, what do we measure to show universities and future employers that our students are ready, willing, and able?

  2. Great post, Karl. I just read that article in The Futurist and found it fascinating.

    I also like that you hit on this trend towards business becoming in some ways more localized. With all the tools we have to work, learn, & socialize globally, I keep seeing indicators of a simultaneous movement towards focusing on issues in our own backyards. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing.

    Good stuff...thanks for posting.

  3. Hey Mr. Fisch,

    I commented on one of you posts a few weeks ago. My name is Susanelle Salter, and I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I think this post was a lot to think about. We do have to be life-long learners to survive in the workforce today. You are right about schools; they do not teach us this principal. Classes make people think in the mindset of "if I can just get through this, I'll be done." Classes should not make students hate learning, and I think the rigid structure of some classes does just that.

    Susanelle Salter