When we design programs, develop curricula, create assessments, and plan other aspects of the educational experience we provide to young people, we make assumptions about the future for which we are preparing them. After all, while we want students to be engaged and enthusiastic about the experiences they are having today, the greater goal is to prepare them to be successful, productive, contributing workers and citizens in adult life.
While it may seem obvious to say that we prepare students for their futures, it may be time to take another look at what the future is likely to hold for today’s students. We need to ask ourselves whether the experiences in which we are asking learners to engage really are preparing them for their futures.
An NPR/Marist poll (2018) paints a picture of the future of work that may surprise you. The poll found that one in five workers today work on contract without a traditional, standard employment relationship. This rate is double what it was in 2005, and 94 percent of net new jobs created from 2005 to 2015 were contract, freelance, on-call, and similar roles. This trend is expected to continue such that within a decade, more than half of the American workforce will be freelance or contracted employees, and the shift will cut across career types from professional to traditional blue-collar work.
To be clear, freelance workers do not work for an employer; they sell their services and expertise to people and organizations who are willing to pay for them. Contract workers work for employers to perform a specific task, typically for a defined period of time, or only when there is work to be done. If the poll is correct, employees with the traditional employment contracts and work relationships typical of the workplace in the last 50-plus years will be in the minority within a decade.
A question we must ask ourselves is whether we are preparing today’s students for this work environment. After all, for students entering high school today, a decade is two years into their career (assuming four years of high school and four years of college).
Consider that freelance and contract workers will:
- Be responsible for keeping their skills and knowledge up-to-date. How are we preparing students to take responsibility for their own learning?
- Need to market their services and expertise to a wide variety of potential clients. What skills, knowledge, and practices are we providing to students to help them understand and present what they have to offer to someone who may be interested in hiring them?
- Have to demonstrate work quality that will separate them from others who may be doing similar work. How are students learning to self-assess and develop the skills necessary to consistently deliver quality work?
- Be required to stay current with emerging technology, practices, and approaches in their field. How are we preparing students to seek out new ideas, develop innovative approaches, and discover new trends?
- Need to develop and manage a personal budget without being able to depend on a regular paycheck and stable benefits. Where in the curriculum and school experience do students learn what they will need to survive in this environment?
Our schools were designed to prepare students for a world of work where they can wait to be told what to do, are supervised while doing it, and are compensated in regular intervals for their loyalty and dependability. Yet, this is not the world in which most of today’s students will live and work. Today’s students cannot afford to have us wait any longer to begin preparing them for their future.
Noguchi, Y. (2018, January 22). Freelanced: The rise of the contract workforce. Retrieved from NPR website: https://www.npr.org/2018/01/22/578825135/rise-of-the-contract-workers-work-is-different-now
NPR/Marist Poll Results. (2018, January). Picture of work [Data Set]. Retrieved from: http://maristpoll.marist.edu/nprmarist-poll-results-january-2018-picture-of-work/