K-Adult: Lifelong Learning Provides Edge in Changing Workplace

Julie Bitely

| 3 min read

Image of a woman about to graduate from college in cap and gown. A friend is adjusting her cap for her.
Get an education, work 40-something years and enjoy your golden years on a comfortable company pension. That linear formula served generations of American workers well, but the future of work isn’t nearly as straightforward. Technology and automation are sparking exponential changes in many sectors of the economy and experts say we need to re-think how we teach students and how we prepare current and future workers. “The future of work, I believe, is learning,” said Heather McGowan, author and speaker on the future of learning and work and the co-founder of Work to Learn. McGowan was a featured speaker at a panel on preparing Michigan students for the future of work at the 2018 Mackinac Policy Conference, which was preceded by a separate panel focused on aligning the state’s current industry and workforce needs with the reality of training workers for tomorrow’s jobs. The two topics are intertwined. It’s no longer enough to learn what you need to do a job and coast through a career, McGowan said. Today’s workers should be constantly looking for opportunities to develop themselves and to anticipate changes in their industry so they can adapt, making learning a lifelong journey. There are jobs that don’t exist today that will be held by today’s elementary students. McGowan urges parents and educators to help students develop their uniquely human skills, such as empathy, social intelligence and creativity. Having those core skills will serve them well in any profession that sparks their interest and help them be agile when the demand for skills inevitably changes. Carla Bailo, president and CEO, Center for Automotive Research, said government, industry and academia have to work together to fill current workforce needs and to pivot to adapt to changing technology and market realities. Now is not the time to be comfortable and complacent at a job, she advised workers. “Constantly renew yourself and be ready to participate,” Bailo said. Careers that utilize the uniquely human skills mentioned by McGowan will likely be harder to automate, said Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution. Jobs that are rote and repetitive are more likely to go by the wayside, which could hit struggling communities and people harder. The history of public education has operated much like a factory, said Dr. Nikolai Vitti, superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District, preparing students for that rote work. Children are treated like widgets and placed on a conveyor belt from kindergarten to their senior year. Some do well, but Vitti said it’s important to remember that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for many. He said emphasizing critical thinking skills for students and helping teachers understand the new reality their students face, is an important part of turning schools around. Equitable funding that takes into account the social factors kids who live in poverty face must be part of the equation, Vitti said. It’s hard for kids to learn when they’re dealing with unstable housing or family situations, poor nutrition, and inadequate health care. Tonya Allen, president and CEO, The Skillman Foundation, said talent is distributed equally in children, but opportunity is not and that needs to change. “If the children do well, then we all do well,” Allen said. Those same social factors that constrict student learning also hinder workers. Dan Varner, president and CEO, Goodwill Industries of Detroit, said industry needs to do a better job of collaborating with non-profits and social service agencies to empower workers to address transportation, food insecurity and other issues that are holding them back from performing at their highest level. If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
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