Are we are educating students for the jobs of the past or for the jobs that will exist when they graduate? Just as airport security is always protecting us from the terrorist attacks of the past and generals are preparing to fight the last war, our educational systems seem to be reactive rather than proactive. We react to a shortage in one occupational field by steering more students toward that field. Later, when jobs in that area are filled, we steer students to the next hot job and tell the excess workers in the former field to go back to school for new training.
Steering students into jobs that are hot today is a bit like buying stocks when the price is high. To really succeed, you need to look away from what is currently popular and try to anticipate what will be needed in the future. Like the stock market, the job market can be difficult to predict, but there are some fundamentals that almost never fail.
Seek to Educate
Education in the broadest sense is “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life” (1). Many of our grandparents learned a profession or a trade and expected to work for one company most of their lives. Later generations, however, found themselves in a rapidly changing global economy in which layoffs, mergers, and downsizing were the norm. If you train for one trade and that work is outsourced or becomes obsolete, must you start all over? Not if you had an excellent general education! People who can read with understanding, voice a logical argument, and write coherent paragraphs in standard English can use these skills anywhere.
What Employers Want
A survey done at the request of the American Association of Colleges and Universities asked employers about the skills they most valued in college graduates. Employers wanted graduates skilled in oral and written communication, with critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills close behind (2). Note that these are not job-specific skills; rather, they are the skills once expected of every educated person. Rather than training students for the hot jobs of the moment, we should concentrate on producing educated people who will be able to adapt to any job market.
2. Bauerlin, M. (2010). Employers want 18th century skills. The Chronicle of Higher Education. http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/employers-want-18th-century-skills/21687 accessed Nov. 23, 2010.