How could workforce development ever produce workers for work that doesn’t yet exist?
Work vs Workforce Development
I have previously objected to workforce development from intellectual and democratic standpoints. The real problem with workforce development is not what it includes, but rather what it excludes; it is not a sin of commission, but omission. Workforce development is insufficient for producing autonomous citizens and sustaining the democracy.
It occurs to me, however, that there are also problems with workforce development from the standpoint of workforce development.
There was an on-line video from ShiftHappens that appeared in 2006, Did you Know? 2.0. It was so popular, in 2012 version 3.0 was released. That update is telling in itself: in a video about how fast the world is changing, some of the information had become outdated in just 6 years.
Consider a few of the comments from the video:
- 1 out of 4 workers have been with their present company for less than 1 year.
- Half of the workforce has been there less than 5 years.
- Today’s students will hold between 10 and 14 jobs by the age of 38.
- The amount of technical information is doubling every 2 years.
- The Top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004.
The video then gives this insight:
- We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist… in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.
The video concludes by proposing a couple of questions:
- Ask your Principal: How are you helping my child become literate in the 21st century?
- Ask you School Board: Are you providing the resources and training to prepare students to be successful in 21st century society?
Predicting the Future
Bingo. There’s the rub in exactly two words: ‘literate’ and ‘training’. Literate for what? How can our children be literate in a vocabulary that doesn’t even exist yet?
And what sort of training are we to provide? How do we train someone for jobs they don’t know they will have, or even worse, for jobs that don’t exist?
Because, of course, when you ‘train’ someone to do a job, you provide clerical education, mindless education, rote education: attach item a to item b, like this; put item c in column d, like this; analyze the profitability of e using formula f.
And that’s the fatal flaw. The future won’t look ‘like this’.
The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be
The video Did You Know? makes it clear that first, the old solutions are quickly becoming obsolete; and second, new, unprecedented problems and needs are appearing at a rapidly accelerating pace.
Which leaves us with a great irony: if we continue to pursue workforce development, we will end up with a workforce whose development is obsolete. Workforce development will produce a workforce that is unprepared for work.
Outdated Educational Ideas
We are trapped with educational paradigms that are, quite literally, a thousand years old. We do not need rote learners, there is no value in memorize-but-don’t think, and we should not waste time on a ‘core curriculum’ where the kids memorize laundry-lists.
We need lifelong learners, high school and college graduates whose innate curiosity – the innate curiosity with which every kindergartner starts school – has been preserved, protected, and nurtured. We need workers, and citizens, who are constantly alert to how things are changing, who are watching for new conditions and factors that have not been previously recognized, and who are unafraid to question – and to openly challenge – long-held theories and paradigms.
The irony is, employers need this as well, but most of them don’t recognize the internal contradictions in their thinking. They understand that to be competitive, they need innovative problem solvers. But to run a tight ship, they also need people who conform and obey. Neither alone is sufficient; we need managers and workers who constantly seek the balance between innovation and conformity. Unfortunately, we have 1,000 years of education traditions that teach conformity but not creative analysis. And so, as managers are promoted from the most obedient employees, they will perpetuate the problem.
We need creative thinkers and innovative analyzers, and workforce development will never produce them. It cannot produce them. Workforce development simply won’t work. It’s not just that the future will look different from the past; the differences are accelerating.
But we continue to educate our children in the past.
A millennium in the past, to be exact.
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