The Future of Work

Work is one of the most important ways that ‘modern man’ makes meaning, defines meaning in life – individually and collectively. Therefore, the future of work and the impacts on work of today’s technological developments are critical areas that we should pay attention to, as educators. These are the things that will shape the lives of the children we have in our schools today.

Yet this troubles me. All too often, we see educators who have convinced themselves that if they can just find ways to do what they did before, by degrees of 1 or 2% better, we can make a better version of yesterday’s education and can pat ourselves on the back that we’re reforming, innovating and delivering something world class.

Instead, with the speed of change so rapid in the world today, we need to be thinking in far more bold and creative ways about what schooling and education should be today in order to prepare young people for the world of tomorrow. If we don’t do these things we shouldn’t be surprised if the education available in our schools is seen as less and less relevant, less and less applicable to the evolving lives of young people. Worse, for those of us engaged in schools development in developing countries and away from the economic powerhouses will be condemning the young people we work with to the disadvantages that have held their countries back ….. but multiplied far worse.

One simple example stands out. Over the last 20 to 30 years one of the biggest engines of growth for developing countries was the shift of manufacturing to those countries. There were multiple reasons for this. In the western countries environmental laws and employment laws became more rigid and more costly to comply with. however, by far the biggest influencer was the relative cost of manpower/ labour.  Western workers became too expensive to employ in labour intensive manufacturing environments. In fact, often the developing country labour was so much cheaper that companies didn’t even need to be hasty about introducing or developing advanced equipment for manufacturing.

However, we’ve now hit a critical tipping point with automation, robotics and the harnessing of AI. Companies are moving manufacturing back to developed countries. Governments, such as the USA, make a big deal of this as a conscious effort to support the common man in their countries, to bring back jobs etc. However, the truth is that much of that manufacturing goes on almost entirely without the need for labour and so will have little or no impact on wages and unemployment. However, it now leads to reduced costs of distribution for the manufacturers and a favourable environment to innovate, automate and  harness to new technology.

This represents a challenge for the mass of people in all parts of the world. Job growth in the developing world slows down, job growth doesn’t really materialise in the developed economies (except McJobs with zero hours contracts). In the meantime, the proportion of the world’s wealth flowing in to the hands of the richest and the biggest corporations increases.

(Ironic that I’m writing this the weekend that the American government passed laws to massively cut tax rates for big corporations (who are frequently already sitting on massive cash piles or engaging in aggressive buy-backs of their own shares as the best way to generate shareholder returns).

I came in on the point that educators should be taking account of where the world is going. Only if we do that do we have any hope of providing effectively for the education needs of a generation who are growing up to a very different world to any that has been experienced before.

To this end, here’s the podcast and report from McKinseys;

McKinsey Pocast – What is the Future of Work?

Then, here is the report from McKinsey. This is the summary article that includes a link to the full PDF downloadable report;

What the Future of Work Will Mean for Jobs, Skills and Wages

As I reflect on the content, what it’s telling me is that we need far less didactic teaching of content and syllabus. We need to hasten the transition to teaching and learning that emphasises the development of Twenty First Century skills and competencies. Also, we need to continue to make schools places where students come to own their own learning, have real and genuine agency and don’t wait for teachers to put learning in to them. Rather, we need environments where children hold themselves accountable to learning goals from an early age, working to build the grit, resilience, tenacity, flexibility,  creativity and adaptability to be able to lead and reshape themselves in an ever changing world.

It’s an exciting time and potentially one that can be phenomenally rewarding for young people. However, it won’t be if they’ve been ill-prepared. Children prepared to excel in the world of yesterday will just struggle immensely in the new world of tomorrow.

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Connected Learning

This was such an inspiring set of short profiles of innovative and exciting learning – examples of where connected IT related learning tools are changing the nature and opportunities of learning.

Digital Promise – What Powerful Learning Looks Like – Students Share Their Stories 

What I really liked about the videos was the extent to which student agency is expanding, past stereotypes are being challenged and questions of student motivation are not even required.

These are children who have a strong sense of ownership of their own learning, are pursuing learning for its own purpose, because of genuine desire to learn and not because it’s on the syllabus or a teacher says that’s what they must learn. There’s scope within the examples for the students to make choices about where they’ve taken their learning and where they might take it in the future.

The examples here challenge past narrow thinking about things like girls in STEM, how old a child needs to be before they have a voice worth hearing and even what’s worth learning (and how).

Some might watch these videos and just think of them as exceptional kids who, by accident of opportunity have found a passion and been supported to pursue it. However, I believe it says far more to us about what education has the potential to be for a bigger proportion of children. ICT

 

Where Have We Reached With Growth Mindset?

Mastery of anything worthwhile takes time. Teachers, of all people, should be very well aware of this fact. However, it’s all too tempting for them to look for silver bullets that can deliver quick, easy panaceas. In Growth Mindset, many teachers believed they had just such a silver bullet.

Carol Dweck has acknowledged that there are those ready to criticise and doubt the relevance or value of her work, as I highlighted in my earlier blog post:
Carol Dweck Applies Growth Mindset to Growth Mindset

When I first came across the work of Carol Dweck on Growth Mindset, one of my first thoughts was that if an educator was to be capable of helping children to have more of a growth mindset more of the time, they were going to first need to do some significant work on themselves. We are all products of the education system we seek to change and therefore, when fixed mindsets are so prevalent, the first group of people who need to acknowledge this are teachers themselves.

Once teachers take this fact on board, they come to realise that such ‘inner work’ and change will not magically happen overnight. it’s a long and arduous process of self-reflection, modest goals to change, working on those over time and following up with further goals. Mastery is a long term goal.

I’m not saying that a teacher has to develop perfect ‘all the time Growth Mindset in themselves before they can begin to work on children’s mindset. In fact, too often, that becomes a mistake on the part of teachers – believing they must be perfect at something before they bring it in to their classroom. However, what’s important is that the teacher is on a journey and committed to the process with themselves. Then, they’re able to begin the work with students.

However, we have to accept as well that the work with children won’t happen overnight. We need to have multiple ways to guide children, learn to have our receptors attuned to when we see or hear mindset that we want to reinforce and strategies to redirect fixed mindset thinking. Mindset is a form of habit, and like any habit creation or change process, it takes time, diligence and persistence to achieve.

Both in ourselves and in children we will find that there are some areas where growth mindset comes easily and effortlessly, but others where the fixed mindset remains stubborn and entrenched. We need to be honest with velours, but also kind and compassionate.  On this journey we’ll have both good days and bad and that’s OK.

What’s important is to be on the journey.

This article, and the downloadable report it summarises carry more than enough evidence on this. It appears that in the US teachers haven’t lost faith and intuitively know that the concept is a good one and that this journey is worthwhile. However, they’ve come to the realisation that it’s not a quick fix and it doesn’t happen overnight. They seem to feel they need more strategies to sustain their work with children. And, as I’ve indicated above – they may need to acknowledge more of the work they need to do with themselves.

Edweek – Mindset in the Classroom  – US National Study 

 

Books For Success

I’m always receptive for good lists of books, especially when like this list, I’ve only read two of the recommended books already – and they are both good ones and among my favourites.

Success – 13 Must-Read Books on Success and Being Successful

Incidentally, the ones I’ve already read are the ones by Adam Grant and Tim Ferriss.

Privilege and the Old Boy Network

If anyone ever had cause to wonder whether privilege still opens doors in the UK, whether those born with the proverbial silver spoon still get all the best opportunities, then here’s the evidence.

London Evening Standard – Nine UK Schools Produce Country’s Most Powerful People

As the article suggests, a great deal of thought and energy has gone in over many years to improving equality of opportunity, to ensure that education can level the field and create social mobility. However, the article appears to show that whatever effect there has been is woefully little.

It still matters a great deal where you went to school ….. and who with!

Dinosaurs in the Classroom

This isn’t the article i intended to write on the blog. That’s still half written, so i’ll save it for another day. Instead, I saw something that got me so hot under the collar that i felt the need to get some stuff off my chest.

First, a bit of background about what’s made me mad.

Over 30 years ago, I was a young man fresh out of college and early in my first career as a private banker. I was excited and thrilled to be out in the professional world at last, ready to build my career. However, I had already had a few months to realise that all was not necessarily well in the world of work and that there were many sharp rocks in the water that could harm a career or harm the idea that all the people working in an organisation are strongest when they all align and pool their best efforts in a common direction. A couple of short stories will illustrate.

Initially, I had to rotate through all the departments of our bank – to understand the work done by each department and begin to build my technical knowledge. I started in the wills, trusts and estates department, full of dusty ledgers and ruled by arcane sets of rules on double entry bookkeeping. Maybe work that entails whole days rifling through the personal possessions of people who’ve just died does something to the inhabitants after a while. After a few weeks I was given a task to collate the records of a large collection of share certificates. Some were for defunct and bankrupt companies, some had been taken over, in some cases the shares had been split many times. It was technical and time consuming work that required great accuracy. I was new, i wanted to learn and i threw myself in to it heart and soul. Extra hours, skipped lunch breaks – I was in the zone. When I’d finished I checked and double checked my work before taking it to the desk of the supervisor.

He opened up the ledger, looked it over for a while and then told me he’d get back to me. Three days later he called me to his desk. He didn’t invite me to sit, pushed his glasses down his nose and peered over the top at me. “Hmm. Interesting.”
My heart lurched. I’d been so careful in the work, had taken such care. Had I made a mistake?
“Wellllll, it’s all correct, as far as it goes ……………. but this isn’t the way we do it here.”
“But is the information accurate, correct and understandable?”
“Yes, Mark. But, you need to understand, this isn’t the way we do it around here.”

All my pride in that piece of work just washed away like someone had pulled out a big plug. I struggled to understand how a piece of work could be right, accurate, clear and yet ……… all wrong because it wasn’t laid out according to some hidden, secret, set of protocols. needless to say, I was made to lay the information out in exactly the way required. my enthusiasm and sense of ownership had gone and somewhere I was cautioned to limit my inclination to use initiative and innovate.

man-holding-his-head-with-hands_1154-47

In the following weeks I picked myself up, renewed my energy and decided to be positive and optimistic, putting this experience down more to the individual I was reporting to than the system as a whole. I threw myself back in to my work with new energy.

A few weeks went by. I will never forget a particular Friday when i took some time out to go to lunch with a couple of my colleagues. As i was coming back in to the building I suddenly felt a tug on my elbow. A much older colleague with whom I’d had little dealings asked/ told me to step in to a meeting room. As I entered, I recalled that someone had pointed him out to me as ‘the union rep.

“Mark, I needed to talk to you on a very important matter.” He looked stern. “It’s come to our attention that you’ve been working late, taking work home and doing extra projects for the management. It must stop immediately. You’re setting a bad example, management will start expecting it of everyone and we can’t have that.”

After I picked my jaw up off the floor I figured out how I wanted to respond. I won’t write exactly what i said here, but the gist was that I told him to mind his own business and that I would thank him not to infringe on my rights to choose how i approached my career.

There is a little side note to that story. About 5 years later I bumped into said Union Man at a company event. By that time I’d undergone a few promotions, moved jobs and offices, done a secondment in the Channel Islands and was generally moving forward in my career pretty rapidly. He, on the other hand, still sat in the same office, doing the same job at the same grade and was known to be full of bitterness towards the company that he considered had failed to recognise his talents! My only hope at the time was that he wasn’t getting to pour his poison in the ears of any other young, keen and ambitious employees.

I’ve always chosen to live (and work) according to the spirit of the famous poem ‘Invictus’, by William Ernest Henley;

“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

We are none of us helpless and we hold our fate in our hands. I also find common cause with writers like Cal Newport, Seth Godin, Simon Sinek and Adam Grant;

Cal Newport – So Good They Can’t Ignore You

“Stop worrying about what you feel like doing (and what the world owes you) and instead, start creating something meaningful and then give it to the world. Cal really delivers with this one.”
–Seth Godin, author, Linchpin

Adam Grant – Give and Take 

Simon Sinek – Leaders Eat Last

These writers all have in common that they are considered to be Twenty First Century thinkers and writers, espousing the right ideas for those who want to succeed in a rapidly changing and demanding environment.

I well remember after i left banking in the late 1990s that as I worked to change my career I started to evaluate where I wanted to work. Without ties, the world was open to me. In some ways, the decision was made for me when people started talking genuinely and seriously about legislation that would, by law, limit the working week. As though, somehow, in some sort of socialist Lala Land it was going to be mandated that nobody must have ambition, nobody must make effort to rise above anyone else, nobody should gain or benefit from the fruit of their own labour. This was all the motivation I needed to set out on an international venture that has now stretched for close to 19 years.

Young people today are growing up in a very different world to the one that I grew up in. It’s way more global, more connected, faster paced and requires a greater level of continuous learning (and unlearning) . This is exactly the kind of world that Newport, Godin, Sinek and Grant are pointing towards. This makes two things very clear to me;

a) When adults say of lifelong learning things like, “I make a particular point of learning from everyone around me,” you’re listening to someone who’s fudging it. Lifelong learning means real learning, not just the lazy practice of kidding yourself that because you spend time around others you’re absorbing their knowledge and wisdom by osmosis. If that was true, we should give every kid in school and A grade when they pass out – just because they showed up and spent time around others.

It also, though, doesn’t necessarily mean the frenzied pursuit of more and more bits of paper. Certificates that say you attended some programme of learning don’t necessarily represent a good fit with the knowledge you need at the time. The best learning to meet the needs of an ever evolving life is the learning that can be gathered through a self-generated and evolving curriculum based upon personal interest, opportunities and circumstances.

b) And this one is the real bee that got under my bonnet and inspired me to park the other article i was writing – people like Union Man shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near Twenty First Century children or their teachers. Their toxic line in mediocrity is so unhealthy that it has no place.

What do i mean – here’s an article published in TES that had me almost frothing at the mouth;

TES – Teachers Shouldn’t be Expected to Work For Free

This article seems to start off on the subject of school/ education funding. However, suddenly it veers off in to a rabid attack on school leaders in a style that would have been worthy of a protege of my Union Man from 30 years ago.

According to the writer, every time a teacher is offered an opportunity to learn, to grow, to expand their skills in to new areas their first response should be, “Not until you tell me what’s in it for me.”

This is how we prepare and motivate teachers to lead a new generation towards fulfilling their potential, grabbing opportunities in the global economy. Do the world’s great creators, artists, designers, idea generators ask, “Can I get away without doing this extra half an hour of effort?” or “Tell me what I’m getting paid before I put in this effort.”

This is the way educators in Britain will condemn another generation of young people to live stunted and denuded lives, wondering why they’re not better off than their parents’ generation, wondering why all the money and jobs seem to be flowing elsewhere, why Asian economies are so buoyant while theirs remains so anemic.

If the writer needs extra time to watch Great British Bake Off, rather than supporting a generation of children to get the best possible education that is his prerogative. But I wish he’d keep it to himself

 

Access to the Highest levels in Formal Education

There are institutes of further studies in India where, because of such enormous desire for seats, admit only 0.01% of all applicants. However, interestingly, some years ago I saw an interview with a prominent business head in the country during which he was asked whether he would rather recruit the ‘intake list’ of those institutes or the graduates coming out of those institutes. His answer was – the former, not the latter. In the case of those Institutions the entry requirements are handled by some very clear cut, very rigorous and taxing examinations. The ability to absorb the vast volumes of information required to do well in those exams becomes the key criteria of entry. From that business Head’s perspective, if he recruited those who could get in to these Institutes he’d know he was getting people with high intelligence, a strong work ethic and ability/ willingness to compete at extreme levels, putting themselves through whatever it takes to get through. Amazing stories abound of the arduous experiences people have gone through to jump the hurdles.

The best and most respected centres of learning in other parts of the world have different methods for selecting the students they wish to attract through their doors. This was a particularly interesting article about Oxford University’s interview and questioning process;

The Guardian – Solving the Riddle of Getting in to Oxford

The Oxford University approach is very clear about the kinds of students they seek to attract through their admissions process. The interviews are designed to identify students who think critically (individually and in discussion with others), who challenge and question and don’t just accept the knowledge they’re ‘given’ at face value. If you want even more insight in to the kinds of questions that were being posed to potential students and the sorts of answers that professors were looking for, you can read this page;

University of Oxford – Sample Interview Questions

The mismatch between what some education systems produce and what places like Oxford University are looking for was brought home to me very starkly when I worked for two years in Bangladesh. There, every year, there would be celebrations of a handful of students who had achieved 5 A* A levels in a single sitting. Like anyone in the world really needs five A Levels? And yet, up to that time, no individual student from Bangladesh had ever been admitted to either Oxford or Cambridge Universities for undergraduate studies. Some had obviously made it there at the post-grad level. These students were seen to be too one dimensional – able to mug up vast amounts of learning to score highly in exams, but lacking the critical depth of view.

Returning to the Indian scenario of the IITs and IIM’s, there is no question that they do fulfil a role of a very strenuous filter – in an environment where the age profile and population size means a massive educable youth at any one time. However, it’s a system that cannot contribute to having every person achieve their potential. It just pulls a few with innate intelligence and ability to pass exams and places them at the top of the pile with masses of self-belief thrown in. Even in this respect, they experience certain challenges. Across India, over the last 20 years a number of academies have arisen that take youngsters from very modest surroundings and ‘hothouse’ them through the IIT entrance exams. However, I was told a few years ago by a number of IIT faculty that these youngsters struggle once they’re in. The goal of getting in figures so massively in their lives that once achieved some struggle to re-calibrate to new longer term goals.

There are also doubts and issues raised about whether these institutes are adequately and effectively preparing young people for the world environment in the Twenty First Century. A lack of emphasis on the development of social-emotional skills is something I know has been a point of focus in the last few years, especially for the IIMs.

By their very nature, seats to study in the very highest of educational institutes will always only be for a very small minority. Only a few have the motivation to test themselves in such an inferno atmosphere and even fewer have the character, competences and skills to achieve entry or to pursue a course of study in these places.

For those who do, enormous and varied opportunities are opened up in the world for how the person will contribute. For those students who have such aspirations and the potential, preparation needs to start early. That preparation needs to be focused very much on what the person’s goals are, their vision and values and how those align with the Institute they’re looking at. Then, the focus needs to be very much on what that institute requires, how their system works and how to be as prepared as well as possible.

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