What School Doesn't Teach Us About the Workforce
Some of the most important lessons about the workforce that institutions should include to prepare the leaders of tomorrow.
This article was written by Alex Sixt, a member of the Entrepreneur NEXT powered by Assemble content team. Entrepreneur NEXT is our Expert solutions division leading the future of work and skills-based economy. If you’re struggling to find, vet, and hire the right Experts for your business, Entrepreneur NEXT is a platform to help you hire the experts you need, exactly when you need them. From business to marketing, sales, design, finance, and technology, we have the top 3 percent of Experts ready to work for you.
The average American college graduate spends approximately 29 percent of his or her life in an educational environment. From kindergarten to senior year of high school, we are trained in multiple important subjects such as mathematics, history, and science. Yet, after 17 years of schooling, institutions have failed to teach students the most important subject: how to navigate the workforce.
The world of work is not what it was even one year ago. Unfortunately, the general skills we are taught in classes do not typically translate to the working world, or they are so broad that students are unable to hone in on any specialized, marketable skill. The workforce is always changing, and although it’s difficult for the education system to catch up, the shift toward a more skills-based, fractional workforce must be taught to set up the students of today for success in the workforce tomorrow.
As COVID-19 continues to shape the workforce into a fractional model that allows workers more flexibility and choice in their careers, we must recognize that the “old ways” of beginning a career (i.e. standard application processes and stuffy offices) are no longer relevant. To prepare students for success, institutions and educators will need to re-evaluate how to teach their students to adapt to a consistently shifting landscape. There’s no doubt that it will take time for our educational system to learn how to prepare students for an entirely new way of working.
However, it is vital that we begin to address the changes that current curriculums fail to include. Here are some of the most important lessons about the workforce that institutions should include to prepare the leaders of tomorrow:
Although the impact of COVID-19 may not be a subject we currently teach in school, the pandemic is a crucial driver behind the most recent changes in the workforce. There’s no way schools could have prepared for this change any more than we could have prepared for a pandemic to consume the modern world. Nonetheless, there is an opportunity in the midst of it all to prepare students for how these changes will affect the workforce they’ll enter in a few years.
Almost 40 million Americans lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and many of these jobs are likely to change in terms of skill level, demand and location (remote vs in office). Many jobs that were deemed necessary before the pandemic are now considered non-essential or the demand for that particular role may lessen over time as companies determine cheaper ways to work around them.
As the workforce begins to enter a critical phase of adapting to a new world, educational institutions will need to study these trends if they are going to help students succeed in a post-COVID job market.
As much as every student loves spending a quarter of their tuition on textbooks (not), the materials used in current classrooms aren’t able to be produced quickly enough to stay up to date with the shifts in the workforce. As we’ve seen with COVID-19, the market changes by the day, and mass-produced textbooks that are typically referred to for at least a few years by instructors leave our students decades behind present trends.
Nearly 40 percent of U.S. jobs are in occupations that are likely to shrink or be cut by 2030. Millions of jobs that exist today will be automated, as the digital transformation will rapidly change how companies choose to source the expertise for their roles. The issue with the current education system is that it focuses on a general overview of domains, many of which will be replaced by automated processes, potentially leaving millions of future job graduates out to dry with unusable skills.
The changing workforce doesn’t wait for the newest textbook version to publish; trends fade fast, and even the most up-to-date practices taught to students quickly become too slow and outdated for the working world. With every technological and global advancement, companies expect more from their candidates. From the knowledge of the latest project management software to a particular, industry-specific skill, students must be taught how current information to compete with other job seekers.
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Shift toward fractional workforce
Even before the pandemic, the workforce had begun to shift toward a fractional model, where workers flex their skills between multiple companies, enabling them to build a more flexible schedule and work-life balance. In response to the pandemic, companies have increasingly begun to hire fractional workers, as it allows for easier scaling of their workforce and creates more opportunities for quickly hiring in-demand skills. However, this model of hiring has yet to be taught in most schools, leaving students to prepare for traditional hiring processes that have already become outdated.
More than one-third of global executives say their organizations don’t have the expertise they need to fill anticipated skill gaps, which foreshadows an even more skill-based, fractional workforce that is molded to fit the business’ needs and the worker’s freedom to flex their skills for multiple employers. Job descriptions that demand candidates master multiple skills areas for one job have become scarcer as executives recognize the value of hiring employees based on specific skills. Students who have only been taught the traditional, general domains are at an instant disadvantage without the specific expertise that companies are searching for.
Shaping us into the leaders of the future
Cliche but true: the students in our classrooms today are the leaders of tomorrow’s workforce. If we don’t want our leadership to be stuck in the old, traditional ways of working, then our educational curriculums cannot be, either.
The world has entirely changed before this generation’s eyes; they’ve witnessed firsthand the disruption that the pandemic has created for society and the need for quickly adapting to evolving situations. The lessons from the pandemic cannot suffice for those taught in the classroom to our future workforce. Trends act as suggested- they change and shift constantly. To build successful leaders, the educational system will need to make room in their curriculum to teach students the most up-to-date information and give them the necessary resources to prepare themselves for the future of their domain.
Even if we’ve missed the mark on preparing students in the past, there are plenty of opportunities to begin implementing these lessons today. Educators can rework their lessons to include discussions surrounding the workforce and the adjustments students may need to make to their career paths. If possible, institutions should develop educational paths that focus on specializing students with a particular skill, rather than a general understanding of an area of study.
If this sounds like an incredibly large issue to fix, that’s because it is; but this doesn’t mean this gap in education is too large to fix. Although it will take a lot of time, research and effort to reframe the way we prepare our students to prepare for the future of the workforce, the investment in building successful future leaders is well worth the sacrifice.
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