“If you do not change, you can become extinct.”
~ Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese?
There comes a time when an organization or individual can be so resistant or slow to change that they actually cause themselves to become extinct. It’s happened to companies we have come to know and love over the years: Borders, Blockbuster, and Montgomery Ward. All of these were popular businesses, innovative during their best years, but resistant to the changes that occurred within their industries. They continue to serve as a warning for organizations and individuals today. Failure to change leaves us unable to participate in the future.
Higher education is facing this same outlook today. Grounded in tradition and restricted by regulations, colleges and universities are being asked to account for their relevance and quality. Graduates are unable to find jobs because they lack the skills employers are desperately seeking. In the past 10 years, academic programs have focused on preparing students for specific jobs. For instance, information technology, nursing, computer science, engineering, business administration, and the list could go on and on. While there is nothing wrong with these majors, the question remains, why are so many graduates unemployable? Sometimes the answer is beyond the institutions or graduates’ control. The market becomes over-saturated and there are not enough open positions or sometimes it requires beginning at an entry-level position in which the pay is not enough.
Since change is inevitable, how can higher education institutions better prepare graduates without the assurances of knowing what specific changes are yet to come?
- Extreme Longevity: People are living longer. (true story)
- The Rise of Smart Machines and Systems: Technology can augment and extend our own capabilities. (we can do more with less)
- Computational World: Increases in sensors and processing makes the world a programmable system. (automation)
- New Media Ecology: New communication tools require media literacies beyond text. (sharing at 140 characters)
- Super-structured Organizations: Social technologies drive new forms of production and value creation. (how many followers do you have?)
- Globally Connected World: Diversity and adaptability is at the center of operations. (the ability to appreciate various individuals’ experience)
So given these drivers of change and supposing you agree with them, higher education needs to develop academic programs which are adaptable and can meet the needs of graduates entering an ever-changing global economy. Simple right? Not so much.
Based on the infographic by top10onlinecolleges.org, the following will be the 10 most important work skills in 2020:
- Sense Making
- Social Intelligence
- Novel and Adaptive Thinking
- Cross-Cultural Competency
- Computational Thinking
- New Media Literacy
- Design Mindset
- Cognitive Load Management
- Virtual Collaboration
Already we are starting to see the need for these skills now in 2014. This need will only grow and increasingly demand more from graduates who are entering a complex, technologically dominated, multicultural world. For higher education, there is a great opportunity to embrace the coming changes by shifting curricula toward content that emphasizes the necessary skills that will be most valued in the future. They are not just "widget-making" skills, but skills graduates can use and apply to a variety of careers. This forward thinking can help graduates fill the current needs of employers, but also provide opportunities for adaptability outside of the majors they choose to study.
Right now, higher education is working to respond to a world which no longer exists, in that, once a change is made to respond to current marketplace needs, it is already too late. Higher education is placed in a precarious situation of needing to respond to ever-changing industry needs while adhering to the traditions and regulations imposed by all stakeholders. But, this burden doesn’t just fall on higher education, but to students, industry professionals, and state and federal governments to collaboratively work together to communicate, adapt, and adjust to the changes already on their way.
As Rear Admiral Grace Hopper once said, “the most dangerous phrase in the English language is, ‘we’ve always done it this way.’”