No Time to Lose: We Must Broaden Our Children’s Exposure to the Real World

We have entered “the greatest transformation human civilization has ever known” according to the World Economic Forum.  This Fourth Industrial Revolution is eliminating millions of jobs while simultaneously creating millions of new types of jobs. The pace of change is astounding and can be seen in the unfamiliar job titles listed as today’s most promising on Indeed’s 25 Best Jobs for 2018, including Agile Coach, Product Owner, and User Experience Designer. To make the list, these positions pay over $75,000 and show the most growth since 2014 on the job search website. Some 16 of the 25 are new to the list from just last year. Similarly, Careercast’s Top Ten list for 2018  lists Genetic Counselor, Information Security Analyst, and Operations Research Analyst as the best jobs available. In the last decade, 7 of the top 10 jobs on their list have changed.

There is no clearly defined pathway to help our children reach these new jobs. Educational requirements vary; not all require a college degree. Experience is a valued commodity with the phrase ‘or equivalent work experience’ often appearing next to degree requests. Technical knowledge is also highly valued. Additionally, there has been a shift in demand from hard skills (what you know) to soft skills (how you interact with people and information). These new jobs require qualifications such as:

  • the ability to thrive in a fast-paced, collaborative environment;
  • interpersonal skills  (in-person and remote);
  • communication skills (verbal and written); and
  • creative problem-solving.

Schools are not physically, organizationally, or financially set up to handle all that needs to be done to bring students up to speed. The entire institutional structure of the school system was built for a different era. Its content is more aligned with teaching about the rotary phone than the smartphone. Additionally, schools are spread thin, implementing programs unrelated to their educational mission. The burden of solving all our children’s ills, from hunger to mental health, has now been placed on schools. Lastly, with the head-spinning pace of change, it is impossible for teachers to keep abreast of all that is happening in the real world. As much as many of them disapprove, their time must be spent preparing for the quantitative measurements that determine their students’ cultural acceptance and their own job security.

As parents, we must take the lead in moving our children away from their structured, school-centered lives. We need to expose them to a broader world of people, places, and experiences so they gain an understanding of this new economy and develop essential skills that can only be learned from real-world interactions. While this exposure should start when they are young, it is during the teen years that community-based interactions become critically important. In some geographic areas, parents must work to create these opportunities and in others, they can find new programs to support their efforts.

Recognizing the urgency, community leaders, educational organizations, and businesses are stepping up to initiate change. With a mission to “ReThink High School”, XQ Super School is part of a new movement to redesign our outmoded education system. Underpinning their design principles is the exposure to community and work-based learning programs.

One inspiring example is Iowa BIG, which was designed by community leaders who were concerned that students weren’t getting the preparation they needed to work in the area’s industries and the negative impact this was having on the local economy.

Students in the Iowa BIG program attend school a few hours a day, benefiting from school spirit and some classroom instruction, but then spend the other part of their school day working on real-world projects of interest to them in the community. Instead of being assigned to a project, the students choose what they want to do after hearing presentations from businesses and nonprofit organizations. The collaboration across five high schools, in three school districts, has unified a large geographic area in Cedar Rapids and benefited both the students and the community overall.

Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart, a learning design firm, calls this “place-based education”.  He believes the opportunities afforded by this new type of education model are uniquely well-suited to build the confidence and skills young people need to contribute to their community”.

There are now mobile apps such as imBlaze that help to facilitate internships between schools and their local communities. It is the brainchild of Big Picture Learning who developed the technology after seeing the success of their “Learning Through Internships” program. Their hashtag says it all: #leavetolearn.

Part-time jobs, CTE courses, apprenticeships, summer jobs, internships, and job shadowing offer excellent opportunities for students to begin to grasp the new world of work and find their potential place in it. This understanding will be essential in determining their post-secondary education pathway. Before making the substantial investment of time and money pursuing a college degree, they can now determine if one is needed for their field of interest and when to pursue it. Today, 40% of college students are over the age of 25.

Volunteering can also be an excellent vehicle for broadening exposure. This was my preferred method for expanding my children’s horizons throughout their elementary, middle and high school years. In fact, volunteering played a key role in helping my oldest daughter determine her career path. She fell in love with special needs children while volunteering at a camp and wanted to work with them in the future. Then, while interning at a therapeutic riding center she became intrigued with speech pathology, which she chose as her major. An average student in high school, she excelled in college as her love of learning about her field motivated her academic success and enabled her to complete her degree in four years.

In addition to the obvious job-related advantages, these experiences expand the relationships students have with others in their community. Rather than solely comparing themselves to same-age peers, these multi-age interactions offer much-needed reference points for comparing themselves to the world around them. They quickly learn that they are more than their GPA, test score or college admissions potential–a critical perspective to improving their health and wellbeing. Additionally, these community-based relationships provide mentors and networking connections that could be the basis of future employment.

In order for our children to take advantage of these opportunities, we must create time in their busy schedules. Difficult trade-offs are required regarding course loads, extracurricular activities and homework. Each family will need to determine what works best for them. Our family created time by limiting AP classes and not engaging in club sports. Becoming educated about the changing economy, understanding the uniqueness of each of our children and viewing time as a limited resource will help determine priorities.

A new era is upon us and we have no time to lose. We need to prepare our children to enter this rapidly evolving world by expanding their perspectives. This will help them develop a keen sense of self, find areas of interest for future work and enhance their connectedness to a greater whole. We can no longer solely rely on schools to solve the challenges facing this generation, especially those related to workplace preparation. It is time to break down the school walls and broaden our children’s worlds.

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