By CYNTHIA SCHUSTER EAKIN
Preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs presents a unique challenge for educators.
According to the World Economic Forum, 65 percent of children entering primary school today will be employed in jobs that do not exist. At the same time, many jobs that exist today will become automated by artificial intelligence in the future. McKinsey Global states that almost half of all workplace activities could be automated in the future.
The Institute for the Future has predicted that 85 percent of the jobs that today’s students will do in 2030 do not exist yet. That may seem like a high number to reach in only 11 years. But, think about the now-mainstream careers that did not exist just a few years ago, like drone operator, social media manager, app developer and cloud computing engineer.
So, how can educators prepare students for jobs that do not yet exist, rather than equipping them with skills that may soon be obsolete? Educational institutions are trying to answer that question, largely by adapting their programs to better suit an ever-shifting work landscape. Today’s educators must ready their students to be able to adapt to whatever comes next.
“There is a huge shortcoming in the way skills are addressed in traditional education. It teaches you to be well-versed in one area, but not prepared to address others,” Scott Parsons, Hathaway Brown Director of the Institute for 21st Century Education pointed out. “Our key focus, particularly with young women, is agency. We want students to leave high school with a sense of agency. We want them to feel that they have a place at the table and that there is validity to what they think. Our other key focus is on critical problem solving and interdisciplinary thinking.”
Complex problem solving is set to be an important job skill in the future. Encouraging students to self-direct and take responsibility for their own learning through individual study and collaboration can help them to develop these skills.
“We teach our students to be seamlessly and organically making connections all of the time. We want our students to be multi-disciplinary by nature,” he noted. “You can’t be a biology student for 50 minutes, then an English student for 50 minutes, and then a math student for 50 minutes of the school day. The different subjects are connected in core teaching.”
“We have speakers who come in to school to interact with our students. These are real people working in the real world. They can be a poet or an entrepreneur,” Parsons said. “We have writer’s workshops once a year. Even if you are an AP Biology student, we want you to realize and appreciate that you can have this beautiful, specialized language to help you communicate.”
“In a recent poll of business leaders, it was noted that creativity is the number one factor to future success,” he added. “You can’t teach people to be creative. But, you can teach the habits that lead to creativity. That is part of the joy of teaching.”
Jennifer Rohan Beres, Associate Head of School/Director of College Counseling at University School, said a well-rounded education is the best way to prepare students for an ever-changing job market of the future.
“Fifty years ago, you could look at the job market and decide which job was best for you. Today, there is a career out there for you. But, you don’t know what it is yet,” she noted. “We really do value our liberal arts skills. Placing an emphasis on math, reading, writing and speaking will prepare you for anything.”
“You may start out in one field today and end up doing something entirely different. It is fun for us as educators to see what students who left us even five or six years ago are doing,” she said.
“We place an emphasis on students picking up habits of the mind that will suit them for tomorrow’s jobs,” she added. “We want them to feel that they are in the process of constantly being a learner throughout their lifetime. We cultivate life-long learning. We want our students to understand that you are not done learning when you leave here or when you leave college or even graduate school. This is the best lesson that we can hope to give them. This is what will serve them well in the future.”