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Lifelong Learning Must Be Priority 1 for Michigan’s Future Workforce

The workplace of today is changing at a dizzying pace, with more shifts escalating into the future — from where and how work gets done, to emerging technologies. Staying employed will require the ability to adapt, re-skill and reinvent. That was the focus of panelists in the session, “Preparing Michigan Students for the Future of Work,” hosted by The Skillman Foundation on Wednesday.

The session kicked off with remarks by national workforce expert and author Heather McGowan, who shared her insight on the future of learning. McGowan said today’s workforce is affected by what she called the Fourth Industrial Revolution at the intersection of automated processes, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT). As a result, humans must move towards learning agility as well as becoming more adaptable and empathetic, to remain relevant in the workplace.

“Students learn a profession, workers strive for experience, all to be applied to the next known step in the career ladder. But what happens when those steps aren’t known? When everything is a first? When degrees and experience barely matter? To thrive in a future that is unfolding faster than we can imagine it, we must become adept at learning continuously,” she said.

McGowan added that phrases like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What is your major?” and “What do you do?” should be retired.

Instead, questions that focus on an individual’s purpose, passion and skills, and how they can be applied in several ways, will better prepare youth for the future.

“If we can tap into that passion and purpose, that’s what’s going to keep the lifelong learning candle lit,” she said.

Following her remarks, McGowan was joined on stage by General Motors’ Terry Rhadigan and Detroit Public Schools Community District’s Nikolai Vitti in a discussion moderated by The Skillman Foundation’s Tonya Allen.

Key Takeaways:

  • Asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, calcifies a bygone era. Define yourself by “why” not “what.”
  • 65 percent of jobs for today’s children do not yet exist, and 47 percent of the jobs will be automated by 2033. Only 27 percent of college graduates work in their major.
  • If public education is the agent for social change, we must talk about poverty and race or we aren’t talking about equitable opportunity. Equal does not mean equitable.
  • Society must move beyond the long-held assumption that schools are conveyor belts. Students are not widgets and learn in their own unique way.
  • If the goal is to teach students to be independent, critical thinkers, Michigan should rethink its emphasis on standardized testing as a measure of success.
  • Intervention must begin at the pre-k level to prepare and attract students to the high-skilled jobs of tomorrow to fuel the automotive pipeline.
  • Embracing uncomfortable conversations are necessary for change.
  • Too often education reform follows ideology. Everyone needs a voice at the table, especially education practitioners.