Teaching the Future of Work: Food Show Edition
Netflix and . . . laundry? That’s about as exciting as it gets around here. With three teenagers, I fold a lot of laundry. So, watching Netflix while I work makes the task a bit more tolerable.
Lately, I’ve been watching Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, as well as the Netflix original docuseries, Street Food. Along the way, I’ve discovered a couple of episodes that would provide an excellent basis for exploring the Future of Work with today’s students, tomorrow’s workers.
Let’s start with Parts Unknown, specifically the episodes on Puerto Rico (Season 10, Episode 6) and West Virginia (Season 11, Episode 1).
The local economies in both Puerto Rico and West Virginia have been decimated by a loss of jobs. In West Virginia, it’s the loss of coal mining jobs. In Puerto Rico, it’s a mixture of jobs. All primarily lost when tax regulations heavily incentivizing corporate business on the island expired. So, the corporations just packed up and left.
Bourdain talks to residents in both West Virginia and Puerto Rico about why they don’t leave too. Go somewhere else. Where good jobs can be found. It seems like an easy solution. Just move. But, there are roots not easily left behind. And, support systems not easily replaced. Sure, there are other places with jobs. But, to the people interviewed, their “home” means so much more than just a job.
So, with people deeply committed to staying in both places, some locals are working on rebuilding their local economies. In West Virginia, the focus appears to be on leveraging what’s naturally there — something other than coal.
In Puerto Rico, the focus appears to be on rebuilding greater self-reliance. Most of the goods available to islanders are imported. Even meat and produce are imported. Making the current return to agriculture a solid first step in building a network of local producers.
Both episodes (or even just portions of the episodes) help explain the broader societal impact of the Future of Work. As jobs disappear, it’s not just the workers who will lose out. Entire communities may suffer. Replacement jobs may not be easily found. Local economies may need revived. And, a sustainable revival may require entirely different skill sets.
Despite all the predictions about how the 4th Industrial Revolution will be different, the fact remains that in many respects we’ve been here before. We already know how the loss of jobs impacts people and their communities. So, what can we learn from West Virginia and Puerto Rico that helps us do better this 4th time around?
It’s a good question. Without an easy answer. All the more reason to get today’s students, tomorrow’s problem solvers, already thinking about the complexity of the issues. Get them brainstorming potential solutions. Before disaster strikes.
Street Food provides a different perspective. Its focus is not on the loss of jobs, but the evolution of jobs. As implied by the title, the series is about the importance of street food vendors to their local culture and economy.
The first season, or volume, focuses on Asia. And, each episode explores a particular city or region.
Likely, the best episode for seeing all the Future of Work soft skills come together is “Chiayi, Taiwan.”
The episode’s featured vendor is Grace. She operates her family’s business, Smart Fish.
Grace’s story, like others in the series, is deeply personal. Grace explains how her family’s business stigmatized her as a child, how excited she was to leave for college, and how her family called her back home to help with the business.
It’s not a story of a found passion. It’s more like a developed passion. After all, Grace hadn’t ever dreamed of returning home to make fish head soup.
But, Grace adapted. And, as she adapted, she saw that the business needed to adapt too. It needed to modernize. It needed things like cash registers and online orders.
But, Grace’s parents weren’t nearly as willing to adapt. They resisted change. So, Grace tried to force the changes, which led to some failures.
These failures led to deep introspection. Then, a renewed resolve. And, patience. Patience in Grace’s relationship with her parents. And, patience in allowing the business to adapt to her vision.
By the end of the episode, Grace explains the pride she has in her work. She truly understands her value — not just to her family, but to her community’s economy and cultural heritage.
It’s an inspiring story. A story that melds together the Savvy Six Skills. The skills students will need to navigate their world of work. Creating a perfect micro lesson on career paths of the future. Where evolving opportunities will require far more adaptation, lifelong learning, and patience than ever before.
Which is perhaps the most important lesson here. That the Future of Work may change career paths. It may even change entire communities. But, collectively and individually, we can adapt. We can persevere. Our kids will just need to know how to find what’s most important to them, their families, even their communities, and use that to build their own future.
Note: Both shows mentioned are subject to copyrights. For guidance on showing all or parts of the shows in class, see this article from EdSurge.