It’s Their Future Too - Give Kids a Seat at the Task Force Table

It’s Their Future Too - Give Kids a Seat at the Task Force Table

It was the middle of September.  I was listening to an interview of Yuval Noah Harai, the author of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.  Midway through the interview, the conversation turned toward the anticipated technological disruption, otherwise known as the 4th Industrial Revolution.  Harai encouraged listeners to pay attention to the political discussions around the midterm elections.  See if candidates had a plan for our future.

According to Harai, politicians don’t have plans for the future.  And, as long as we don’t ask about the future, politicians will continue campaigning with nostalgic images of the past.  This just keeps us from preparing for the future.

So, after that interview, I stared listening to midterm commercials and debates for any talk about the future.  There was a governor’s race here in Ohio.  I heard comments about “future” jobs.  You know, jobs for our kids.  But, I didn’t hear a plan for the coming technological disruption.  The talking points were exactly the same as they’ve been throughout my entire adult life — let’s grow our economy, there are better days ahead.

For those of us in Ohio, Harai was right.  We’re not discussing a plan for the coming technological disruption.  In some other states, however, conversations about the Future of Work have started.

In Indiana, a Future of Work Taskforce started meeting in June, 2017.  With 17 members, this task force appears to be in its early stages, learning about issues surrounding the Future of Work, including education and job training.

In April of 2018, the state of Washington passed legislation that created a 16 member Future of Work Task Force.  They started meeting in October, 2018.  And, they too appear to be in the process of educating themselves. 

In New Jersey, on October 5, 2018, the governor signed an executive order establishing The Future of Work Task Force.  This task force will have up to 25 members.  While they have not started meeting, they have put out a call for background research and analysis.  

Similar task forces and work groups have been started by think tanks and political parties.  And, the National Governor’s Association is leading several initiatives, including a seven-state collaborative project.  They’re examining ways to better support the gig economy.  

Harai is correct — politicians don’t have plans — but, at least, in some places, conversations have begun.  And, they will continue.

Where will these conversations lead?  To a variety of policy recommendations.  For instance, unemployment compensation policies may need updated as automation causes job loss.  Or, maybe there will be financial incentives for employers to pay to upskill employees.  And, there’s likely to be recommendations impacting elementary, secondary, and vocational school curriculums.  

More simply stated, these task forces and initiatives will shape our governments’ response to the 4th Industrial Revolution.  The quality and impact of those responses, however, will only be as good as those participating in the conversations.  

It is important that today’s students, tomorrow’s workers, join these conversations, as they will be the ones most impacted.  As we have learned from Millennials, younger generations have far different expectations from their employment than Baby Boomers, or even Generation X.  So, it seems unwise to plan for a future without including the very people who will be living and working in that future.

Other stakeholders will be well represented, of that I’m certain.  In Washington, the task force includes legislators, business leaders, and labor leaders.  In Indiana, membership includes these same stakeholder groups, as well as representatives from state agencies, like education and workforce development.

I’ve worked with and for enough city, county, and state governments to know that stakeholder groups have high expectations. Selfish expectations.  Business wants what’s good for business.  Labor wants what’s good for labor.  Rarely are those wants the same.  And, so resulting policy recommendations are frequently based on compromise.  

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  But, it’s not a good thing if those compromises are about your future and you weren’t even consulted.

It’s not unreasonable to believe that kids are up to the task of joining these forces of professionals.  Today’s kids are already tackling big issues. There’s no shortage of examples.  But, for the sake of argument, here are three: Gitanjali Rao, who developed an inexpensive device to test drinking water for lead;  the teens from Parkland;  and, John Stagliano, who started Home Again, helping the homeless transition into housing that feels more like home.   

When Yuval Noah Harai was telling listeners to challenge politicians about their vision for the future, he said it’s our responsibility, as citizens, as humans, to help create a vision for our collective future.  I agree.  But, I also realize that what I envision will be different from what a high school student might envision.  And, it’s irresponsible for me to want to shape a future based on my vision alone.  

Frankly, I’m not even sure how relevant my vision should be.  Look, let’s be realistic. A month ago, I was attending my 30th high school reunion.  Perhaps it’s best if I just contribute my education and experience and help tomorrow’s workers execute their own visions for the Future of Work.

If you’re a parent, educator, or coach, you may be one of the first to hear about how your city, state, or school district begins to prepare for the Future of Work.  That’s a perfect opportunity to advocate for kids to get a seat at that table.  Let them have a voice.  After all, it’s their future at stake far more than our own.  

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