6 ways the future of work is changing education

Students will need more than just technical skills in the future world of work
By: | August 7, 2020
In the future world of work, students will need both technical expertise and the ability to learn new skills and adapt to the "gig economy." (GettyImages/Omar Osman)In the future world of work, students will need both technical expertise and the ability to learn new skills and adapt to the "gig economy." (GettyImages/Omar Osman)

Students will need flexibility as they face a future of work that will operate increasingly as a gig economy and—since the COVID outbreak—a remote economy, says one K-12 expert.

Workers in the gig economy switch jobs and roles regularly, and function more like freelancers than long-term employees, says Rachelle Dene Poth, a District Administration columnist and technology teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, Pennsylvania.

“Students need to have varied skillsets and be able to market themselves,” says Poth, who has also been a presenter at DA’s Future of Education Technology© conference. “They also need to be able to self-assess and ask ‘What are my skills?’ and ‘What do I need to work on?'”

Students also will require more than just technical skills in the future world of work, says Richard M. Long, executive director of the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of leading public school advocacy organizations.

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“Welders, for example, have to be able to read very complex charts and texts, and to also be able to write instructions,” Long says.

Here are six key changes that Poth and Long says educators need to make to better prepare students for the future of work:

1. Develop creators, not consumers

Teachers should create opportunities for productive struggle where students learn to work independently and manage their time, Poth says.

This fosters a growth mindset that encourages students to brainstorm to solve problems

She shared an example of a project in which students read Great Expectations and then market it on social media. Then, they develop a plan for how they would have promoted the book in the 1700s

“That’s not something you can find an answer to on Google,” Poth says.

2. Teach entrepreneurial skills

To eventually start their own companies, students need to learn about every facet of the work environment.

Educators can facilitate this in school, with makerspaces, project- and placed-based learning programs, and a strong focus on STEAM. They can also ensure students have opportunities to shadow professionals outside of school, Poth says.

“They need a chance to explore the things that are happening in the real world and be able to navigate their way through it,” she says.

3. Stress COVID-era skills

Should online and remote learning continues beyond the COVID-era, teachers will need to develop students who are more self-reliant.

That means teaching students how to make personal and professional connections, and how to find credible information, among other do-it-yourself-type skills.

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This will prepare students to work remotely in their professional lives as well, Poth says.

4. Develop students who can learn on the job

Businesses and manufacturers are looking to K-12 education to provide workers who can be trained and retrained as their industries change, says Long, of the Learning First Alliance.

Part of this is better connecting learning to the real world. For example, students who are not captivated by a math lecture can become highly engaged in shop class when they have to calculate angles to measure and cut wood to build something.

“The future is not making it academically real, but real real,” he says.

5. Provide more apprenticeships 

U.S. schools have not, traditionally, taken advantage of a centuries-old model—the apprenticeship—that could develop more adaptable workers.

Now, a growing number of districts are working with local employers and community colleges to create CTE programs where students learn on-the-job electronic, artificial intelligence and welding skills.

In these schools, students learn in classrooms for two or three days, and spend the rest of the time at their apprenticeship.

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“These businesses are saying to education, these are the math skills we need and these are the lit skills we need, and it’s not basic stuff,” Long says. “Now, the students get to see how the skills are applied the very next day.”

6. Don’t force kids to go to college

College has been emphasized to the point that many families now see the alternatives—such as a career in the trades—as second class.

Educators may have to do a better job of detailing the lifestyle potential of these options for students and families.

“You have to present it so it doesn’t look like you’re saying these kids have no future, when in reality they may have a great future with a ton of options,” Long says. “There’s a big demand for plumbers and people in those types of trades are making solid wages.”