It wasn't too long ago that new graduates would join a company straight out of school and spend the next several decades there. There was an implicit contract between employer and employee that rewarded productivity and loyalty with opportunity and stability. Back in 1985, 60 percent of Americans even enjoyed a full pension.
For today's new graduates, the landscape looks completely different. Less than 14 percent of people retire with a pension today. New college graduate can expect to work for 12 to 15 different companies over his or her lifetime, switching jobs an average of four times in his or her first 10 years in the workforce. And self-employment is also increasingly common. A recent study by my company, Intuit, found that 34 percent of the workforce is self-employed and the market for on-demand labor is expected to continue to grow rapidly - at an estimated 18.5 percent through 2020.
In today's fragmented employment landscape, long-term success depends upon being able to anticipate change, adapt, and rapidly develop new skills - in other words, a renewed focus on entrepreneurial skills. Our education system, however, is still geared towards training people to be great at one thing.
Nurturing Entrepreneurship and Lifelong Learning
While we will always have a need for specialized professionals - be they doctors, engineers, or teachers themselves - the fact is that for the majority of working people, long-term career success will come not from mastering a single skill, but from being prepared to navigate an ever shifting world. In other words, successful people won't only be those with the Ivy League degrees - it will also be those who embrace lifelong learning.
Here are a few perspectives on how we might start down this road.
Teach Entrepreneurship Beginning at a Young Age
It's great to find formal entrepreneurship courses in the country's MBA programs, but teaching the skills of self-sufficiency in the business world needs to begin at a much younger age - as early as primary education. This is already beginning through clubs like those organized through MIT Launch (reaching about 100 schools nationwide). Online tools like Udemy and Kahn Academy are helping to fill the void with well-developed entrepreneurship programs, and local education and training courses, such as General Assembly, Creative Live, and Skillshare exist to help individuals compete in an increasingly technological and creative economy. This is a promising start, but we still have a long way to go in bringing entrepreneurship skills to students when they are at their most creative and inspired age.
Develop a Digital Credential Program to Certify Workers' Education
Colleges and universities give grades and diplomas to those who complete their coursework. In order to give workers the ability to demonstrate their earned skills in the marketplace, it's time for online educational platforms to follow suit, with a verifiable certification program for those who complete continuing education programs or other online training coursework. The concept of so-called "Digital Badges" isn't new, dating back at least to 2011, but it's an idea that is finally beginning to take hold. For example, online students taking courses from the Oregon Institute of Technology can now receive one of up to 20 badges across the school's IT-centric curriculum. These badges can be displayed on a LinkedIn profile or on a worker's blog or online portfolio.
Embrace Design Thinking and Experiential Learning
Another idea to kick-start our students' solopreneurship is to devise new ways to teach old ideas. The idea of "learning by doing" - also known as experiential learning - has shown itself to be a valuable tool in any educational environment, but it has special applicability when it comes to self-employment, where new ideas can be tested in a mock or real business. Why learn how to code a website in a classroom setting when students can learn the same techniques in a real-world environment where the stakes are higher? Additionally, other methodologies like design thinking, a proven 4-step process that any business or profession can use to solve problems and discover new opportunities, should be considered. Expanding these techniques in primary and secondary education can help to prepare students for a world of self-employment.
The traditional classroom-based educational techniques that have worked for decades are showing their age. As the employment landscape continues to evolve the educational system will have to follow suit. How do you think our educational system needs to adapt to accommodate the changing needs of workers?