Right now, there are millions of Americans who are currently unemployed. At the same time, HR departments around the country complain constantly about not being able to find candidates who are suitably qualified. What’s going on?
We have a profound mismatch today between the jobs that need to be filled, the workers available, and the training necessary to perform those jobs. Workers are located in the wrong geographic areas, and possess the wrong skills. Students are unsure what credentials they need to obtain to get jobs they’ll be suited for, and educators don’t always know how to best prepare their students for a rapidly-changing world.
To really make a dent in the employment gap, we’re going to need to start thinking about education in a whole new way. We have many of the technologies we will need, but we need to be leveraging them better. How can we reshape education to create a better-prepared workforce of citizens ready to participate in a digital world?
Rethink the Classroom. Workplaces and classrooms used to have certain parallels. Their occupants would gather in a physical space at a set time, and then follow instructions from a central authority, whether that was a boss or an instructor.
Today’s workplaces look increasingly different. Knowledge workers increasingly work remotely, in virtual environments with a huge emphasis on collaboration. Other hot fields, like home healthcare or participants in the gig economy, are also increasingly decentralized and technology-dependent. Workers need to interact with each other virtually, making decisions on their own and building relationships with people they may never see in person.
So why are we still treating education like top-down, in-person-only experience? Increasingly, in fact, it’s not. From juggernauts like the University of Phoenix to elite programs like Harvard Business School’s HBX, virtual classrooms are increasingly popular. Students are learning in the same way they’ll work—on the go, on their own schedule, and from wherever they happen to be. Technologies like lecture capture, video assignments, video chat, and sophisticated analytics are making it possible to still build interactive classroom environments even when no physical classroom is possible.
It’s not just a matter of work style, either; it’s a matter of starting students with the technological tools their employers will expect them to be familiar with. When asked in a survey, 82% of employers said video communication skills should be taught in school to ensure tomorrow’s workforce was video-competent.
Rethink the Career Path. It used to be that young adults would choose a particular career path to pursue. They would be trained for that career, whether in college, trade school, or an apprenticeship, and then they would pursue that career until they retired. Or, at least, that was the narrative that we liked to tell.
That narrative has broken down. Most workers today will have multiple careers, some of them even overlapping. For many kids in elementary school today, the jobs they’ll eventually have haven’t even been invented yet. It’s absurd to think that a few years of college before hitting the working world will be all the education that today’s young workers will need.
Instead, we need to stop seeing education as a something that ends before you start your career, and start building systems to actually encourage lifelong learning. Education is not going to be just for the young anymore. It’s going to be for mid-career transitions, for working parents, for older workers looking for new opportunities. It won’t be bright-eyed teenagers who can spend four years devoted exclusively to education. It will be busy people with real-world experience, trying to fit new training into the cracks of their already-full lives. It will need to be asynchronous, flexible, and easily transported across geographic boundaries and gaps in time as people’s lives and needs change over decades.
Rethink the Job Hunting Process. One of the big challenges, when the nature of work changes so quickly, is helping people become simply aware of what careers are out there. App developers, Uber drivers, social media managers, sustainability experts, Amazon delivery drone drivers—none of these careers existed a decade ago. (Well, the last one might not quite exist yet, but it’s looking increasingly likely.) How can people hunt for jobs they don’t even know exist?
So much of our worldview—of what we think is normal or even possible—is shaped by our surroundings. When kids, or adults looking for a new field for that matter, look around for what they want to be when they grow up, they’re going to first think of the jobs people they know have. And as different geographic regions and social circles experience booms and busts, the distribution of experts becomes uneven. There’s no reason, with today’s virtual offices, that tech start-up workers all have to live in San Francisco, for example. But it’s easier to find your new agile development coordinator in the Bay area, which means talented potential in Nashville or Santa Fe or rural Appalachia gets overlooked.
We need to find better ways to match people and employers. More than that, we need to more explicitly bring training and educational resources into the equation. Right now, hiring managers keep going back to wells that are already dry, because too many of the content marketers/cloud computing engineers/elder care specialists are clumped together. Maybe it will look like videos that explain what different jobs look like, so job searchers can learn more about potential fields. Maybe it will be partnerships with community colleges and government training programs to tailor new kinds of vocational training to meet rising demands.
Technology has caused huge ripples in society, changing everything from the way we entertain ourselves to our workplaces to our schools. But it’s also created huge new opportunities. If we can change the way we look at education and the classroom, we can make real strides towards narrowing some of the gaps that we’re experiencing today.
Dr. Michal Tsur is the co-founder and president of Kaltura, the leading online video platform. To learn more about what the future of education might look like, join The Classroom of Tomorrow Virtual Summit on June 8.