My title for this month’s column poses an important question and presages a bunch more: Are we preparing our learners for a world that we have already successfully traversed but also one that no longer exists? Are there certain core principles and skills that are always hard currency in society and the employment marketplace? Do civil society and democracy require an informed electorate, and does the decline in newspapers (but not news) imply a need for different strategies? Can one live a happy and successful life without technology skills? Will the future require a vastly different set of skills?
I’ll go out on a very short limb and say that the future will be very different. I manage to live quite well without the skills my father had—he could carpenter, drive a car, fix plumbing and electrical equipment, and build a recreation room. Those skills were a large part of his identity even though he was a white-collar senior manager for a large utility. I sit here with none of those skills, and I still successfully fill a role as a white-collar senior executive in a software company. Many of my male Baby Boomer peers are in the same situation. We don’t have those neat old carpentry and repair skills that our fathers had, and we never will. Weakly we assert that we hire other people with those talents when they’re needed for various reasons.
We seem to be moving inexorably toward an infinitely more complex world where specialization is necessary because there’s not enough time to be good at so many things. We’re also seeing the demise of many jobs that had low barriers to entry. That is, they did not require too much education or experience. Our children are faced with fewer low-skill jobs and the need for higher levels of skill to be assured of a working wage that can support an individual or family at a standard of living better than or similar to that of their parents.
Doug Johnson at the Blue Skunk blog said it better when he noted that there are a bunch of jobs where you just don’t meet or talk to the employed people anymore (http://dougjohnson.squarespace.com/blue-skunk-blog/2009/10/9/gone-missing.html):
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