Don't Wait for the Future of Work - It's Here

Posted by Kate Coble on February 10, 2020

During Learn Launch 2020, there was a trend in sessions whose titles used the term “future” in some capacity. That’s unsurprising considering as people and leaders we’re always preparing for what’s next, but something an audience member said woke me up. She said, essentially, that we have to stop talking about the “future of work” because it gives us permission to assume we have time to change.

If the future of work is now, where does that leave us as drivers of educational reformation, employers, and workers? Here are three emerging themes from leaders and advocates at Learn Launch 2020:

A universal understanding of the currency of skills

With middle-skilled workers comprising 50% of the workforce and a crippling skills gap, training for skills between a high school diploma and a college degree is being thrust into the limelight. The problem is, between these two spaces is a wide array of skill sets and each organization, industry, and governing body has a different way of translating skills into currency. This can be confusing for employers and even more so for the average worker.

Frank Britt, a keynote speaker and CEO of Penn Foster, called for a new skills taxonomy, explaining how a more clearly-defined skills ecosystem would benefit both employer and worker simultaneously. “If you can tie back to a lattice of skills, then everyone is empowered to go get the skills they need.” This shift would put power back into the individual learner’s hands, a sentiment that drummed like a heartbeat through many of the sessions.

Accelerating economic mobility requires a shift in risk allocation

There’s another problem within the current educational system and that’s the role personal finances play in an individual’s ability to learn skills, and ultimately earn a paycheck. Education costs money — and that’s necessary to keep educators employed and content up to date. Frank Britt opened up the conference by questioning why, if we know that finance is a barrier to learning, institutions still place the risk on the most financially vulnerable part of the ecosystem? The good news is that change is on the horizon. “I see a lot of disruption happening from where the risk is held,” Britt stated.

The renewed emphasis on apprenticeships, the shift in narrative for k-12 student journey mapping, and a shared responsibility for employer-sponsored workforce training are among those disrupting the system and helping individuals become empowered to earn a better wage.

The college degree still reigns supreme

While many of the change agents in attendance preached the value of microcredentialling and alternative teaching models, everyone from Michael Hansen of Cengage to Sean Gallagher of the Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy pointed to the challenge of displacing the college degree as the true north for career building. But what is contributing to this enormous “staying power” as Hansen called it?

In part, it’s the resistance of change that plagues people of all industries. The college degree has had a good run — and with good merit. It’s the only true internationally accepted recognition of skill attainment, and yet, it’s fundamentally broken.

Sean Gallagher’s new research claims that while employers know that bootcamps, MOOCs and other microcredentials are helping people learn in a manner that can keep up with the accelerating pace of workforce needs, they are using it as a supplement, not a replacement to degree attainment.

Ultimately, Learn Launch was a quorum of people in agreement: the time is now to impact the workforce of tomorrow. As we share the responsibility of accelerating change, we have to be willing to question how we think about and value skill attainment, risk allocations, and the perpetual velocity of learning.