Preparing Students for the Future of Work
I recently attended my 30th high school reunion. As with any reunion, I imagine, every conversation seemed to revolve around work and family — how old are your kids, where are you working, etc. As I explained my quest to prepare students for the Future of Work, I inevitably was asked, “So, what should my kid study?”
A few days later, I came across a tweet that shared a video clip of a burger-making robot and asked this question: “How are we preparing students for a world where we can no longer have burger flippers?” One of the commenters suggested giving kids more exposure to career options.
I understand this line of thinking — if not this, then that. But, I’m worried that simply identifying careers of the future will not be sufficient for the 4th Industrial Revolution. This time around, it won’t be as simple as looking to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for predictions on what jobs will be in demand. I fear that we will do a great disservice to today’s students if we only rely on that model of career counseling.
Remember when we learned the “Five Ws”? Those five essential questions to ask as you gather information — who, what, where, when, and why. In the Future of Work, it’s not just the “what” that will change. Who our kids work for, and where they work, will be quite varied. Even the “when” will be different, as the traditional 9-5 schedule continues to erode. Perhaps the greatest change will be the fact that the Future of Work will provide so many variations of employment, that why one chooses to work in a particular environment may be more than “for a paycheck.”
It is true, that many of today’s jobs will become automated, negating human effort. That naturally seems to lead us to think about what jobs will be around in five to ten years. But, there is so much more to the Future of Work than the net loss and gain of jobs. The very relationship between employer and employee will change. In fact, it is already changing.
When I decided to work for myself, nearly twenty-one years ago, the extent of the “how-to” resources, specifically for lawyers, was one book. Granted, it was a big book. But still, it was just one book.
Resources were slim, in large part, because “freelancers” were limited in numbers. Writers, photographers and other creatives have been freelancing for what seems like forever. But, solo consultants, programmers and graphic designers were few and very far between.
Today, though, there are so many freelancers, in nearly every profession. By some estimates, nearly one-third of today’s workforce is engaged in some type of independent work. There’s even a whole industry selling services to support and educate freelancers.
It’s easy to find a freelancer, thanks to platforms connecting employers with talent (think Fiverr and Upwork). Traditional employers now get some work completed with freelancers, saving the time and cost of hiring new employees. These platforms encompass all levels of talent and professions — from low-cost proofreading to high-end C-Suite consultancy.
When I opened my office, I needed to rent an actual office with conference space for meetings. I had to get phone and fax lines, and purchase all the standard office equipment. Today, you can run a business with a laptop and phone, sitting in a coffee shop or library. If you need meeting space, or want to collaborate with others, that’s not a problem. Just pay for coworking space by the hour, day, or month, and all the amenities of a traditional office space are provided — wifi, printers, scanners, and most importantly, coffee.
As we talk to our kids about their future, it is important that we create an accurate picture of work. It is no longer true to presume that today’s students will work full-time with one employer, receiving insurance and paid time off.
It is also not accurate to presume that students will make just a few job changes in their lifetimes. By some predictions, job changes will occur every 3 or 4 years, with perhaps a total of 11 different jobs in one career.
And, it is no longer accurate to believe that students can obtain a degree, hang it on a wall, and call it done. A degree is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning. As some jobs become obsolete and new ones created, training and education will be the key to maintaining employability.
Even the very finding of work is changing, making it necessary for today’s students to know how to brand and market themselves — as if they’re little corporations. Think of it as “Me, Inc.”
It’s important that students’ expectations upon graduating align with reality. We, as their parents and teachers, can help set expectations through ongoing conversations. As kids think about what they want to do, they can also now think about how, where, and when they want to do it. And, most importantly, they can give weight to “why.” A significant amount of change is headed their way, but with the right mindset, kids can embrace the change and perhaps discover great satisfaction in having so many options.