Today, the speed of technological innovation is exponential — billion dollar companies rise and fall seemingly overnight. Things we learn quickly become irrelevant, and daily life requires adaptability with ever changing devices, platforms, and technologies. The landscape is not only constantly changing, but also changing much more rapidly than ever before. In conflict with this pace, the structure of the current education system requires long lead-time to approve coursework and curricula. Where we used to be able to determine a curriculum based on existing professions and labor market demand, we now have no idea what will exist in a year, let alone several years from now.
Compounding this education/employment disconnect is the fact that education is decentralizing, with various online platforms offering e-learning curriculum, improved software for personalized learning, hybrid online/offline models, achievement badging capabilities, digital portfolios and other credentialing tools. As more individuals opt into these non-traditional educational opportunities and platforms for tracking education, and the bachelor’s degree ceases to be the only viable credential, companies will have an even greater volume of unknown applicants through which to search. These factors will converge to provide people who have hard (rather than anecdotal) evidence of their competency and capacity an edge in the labor market.
Most of us have been taught that school (college included) is the logical pathway to employment. This belief encourages students to take on massive debt, which drives up their post graduation salary requirements, then to graduate with degrees, which are not relevant to the workforce, and in many cases not graduate at all.
There are currently over 3 million unfilled US jobs, and the chief complaint from companies is that candidates lack the necessary skills to fill them. A report from Georgetown shows that 65% of all new job openings by 2020 will require some form of post-secondary education or training. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, there are nearly 39 million borrowers carrying more than $1 trillion of federal student debt with the highest default rate since 1995, at $8 billion. More than 40 percent of recent U.S. college graduates are underemployed or need more training to get on a career track, with climbing rates for minorities and certain states. Once in the job market, only 45% of youth are happy with their chosen field of postsecondary schooling.
What is needed is a fundamental re-thinking of education as it links to employment. “Educators,” both traditional and new, can develop means of curriculum that are influenced by the specific demands of the labor market. In any system there are inputs and outputs and if it is an efficient process, you are hopefully optimizing those toward a goal. While this is intuitive — our biases about what education means and how it should occur leaves the system in a standstill.
In my role leading Education Prize Design for the X PRIZE Foundation, I was tasked with designing a multi-million dollar incentive prize for entrepreneurs to drive breakthroughs in the Education industry. I had the opportunity to ask dozens of people (including those in the trenches as Educators, Foundations, and Government entities active in the space, as well as the visionaries and moguls guiding the innovation work of the Foundation) the question “What is the goal of Education?” The response was generally one of three answers:
1. “hmm, I’ve never thought about that”
2. “to help students graduate”
3. “to prepare students for college”
In our Qualifyor Problem Solving curriculum we teach that in order to get at the root of a problem, you must dig deeper, asking why again and again. When asked why they should strive for the outputs in 2 and 3 above, the response was similar to the below:
“So students can be happy, healthy, and self-sufficient contributing members of society”
“Contributing members of society” means different things to different people. I would like to suggest a key component of this is being employable by businesses and communities. When judged against that metric, it is evident by the massive number of young people who lack exposure, experience, and access to the labor market that we are not reaching a key goal of education. Qualifyor addresses these lapses in the current system via our online competition platform, in which all work is tracked in portfolios. An education system driven by user demands includes curriculum developed directly as a result of the types of jobs available in the marketplace. In order to bridge that gap, our platform provides the following:
1. EXPOSURE: Most young people (particularly low-income youth) lack access to mentors, advisers, and contacts that are crucial to securing employment. Most people get jobs through people they know, meaning success can be largely impacted by the success of their parents. To level the playing field, we need to build platforms which provide them access to professionals in exciting companies.
2. EXPERIENCE: Companies are hesitant to hire unproven young people without work experience. To solve the “no experience, no job” and “no job so no experience” problem, we need to find low risk methods for young people to get their foot in the door– namely, things like competitions and project work. These forms of experiential learning enable young people to create real work deliverables to demonstrate their creativity and skill without companies having to commit to a hire. They foster crucial skills like time management, teamwork, problem solving and project management.
3. PORTFOLIOS; All young people need to build portfolios. The best way to distinguish themselves to a potential employer is to show, not just tell, what they are capable of. Further, portfolios can be optimized as dynamic tools that include real time metrics, scores, and credentialing capability.
With education poised for disruption, we need to be intentional about the outputs of our new systems and how employers will receive them. It is our duty to ensure young people are given the complete set of tools and opportunities they need to happy, healthy, and self-sufficient members of the workforce.