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May 06, 2024

Preparing for jobs that don't exist yet

Skills for the future will require a critical balance of intellectual dexterity and technical expertise
by Rita Savard

More than half of today’s 5-year-olds can expect to live to 100 or longer, according to researchers at Stanford University’s Center on Longevity. That has big implications for how we learn and how we should plan our working years.

Michelle Weise, a Phillips Academy leadership partner, All-School Meeting speaker, and expert on the future of work and education, tackles the longevity revolution in her book Long Life Learning: Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Even Exist Yet. She ponders a question poised to be the next big disruptor in academia: Will a four-year education at the beginning of a 100-year career adequately prepare a person for their entire working life?

“This is a huge mindset shift, because we are so used to thinking about education being frontloaded in the first quarter of our lives,” says Weise. “Then we go out into the workforce, build our careers, earn a living, and retire. But that entire construct is now being questioned, and rightfully so, because the old-fashioned concept of one job for life is over.”

Author and expert on the future of work and education, Michelle Weise.

With today’s speed of change, there are fewer careers where people can expect the knowledge acquired in school to see them through to retirement. Our brains, Weise emphasizes, aren’t exactly wired for imagining ourselves five or even 10 years out, making it difficult to empathize with our future selves. Putting statistics in perspective, studies point to early baby boomers who are already averaging 12 job changes by the time they retire.

So how do we prepare students to thrive in a future where their careers will be shifting over a longer period?

“The future of work and education is going to become inextricably tied, with people making continuous returns to learning throughout life, so we’re going to need those returns to learning to be much more seamless,” says Weise. “Our current system of traditional higher education is ill-suited to facilitate flexible, seamless, cost-effective learning pathways for people to keep up with emergent workforce demands. We must do better.”

Whenever humans solve problems in the world, adds Weise, the solution is, and will be by nature, interdisciplinary. To cultivate nimble thinkers and prepare them for the new, cross-functional jobs of tomorrow, teaching and learning must be problem-based.

“The most valuable workers now and in the future will be those who can combine elements of what author David Epstein calls ‘range’—the ability to stretch across disciplines, engage in analytical thinking, and apply knowledge from one context to another,” says Weise. “Skills for the future will need to be hybrid, a critical balance of intellectual dexterity and technical expertise.”

4 Ways to Future-Proof Your Career

Highlight Your Human Skills

We tend to focus on hard skills, but human skills are important too, such as adaptability, collaboration, exercising judgment, or mediating tense situations. Make a timeline of your key professional and personal experiences. Do you see patterns?

Become a Skills Translator

You need to translate your skills for your prospective employer. Be sure to research the industry you want to move into, because the same skill can have vastly different meanings depending on the context.

Find Data in Discomfort

At work, when do you feel uncomfortable? Maybe you feel out of depth when people bring up a new technology or platform. Pay attention to those signals. It’s data telling you where you need to level up.

Get Picky

You shouldn’t be the only one committed to your skill development. Your employer should be too. The next time you change jobs, try to choose a company or organization that is building talent from within.

Categories: Academics, Magazine

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