Career Education in the Coming Job Environment

Most college and university programs are ultimately in service of career preparation, in one form or another.  However, the job environment is projected to change dramatically in the next decades.  The education one receives immediately after high school will not be sufficient for a whole career that may last 40 to 45 years or more after leaving college.  The half-life of the knowledge and skills gained in higher education is getting ever shorter.  It will be necessary to continue to learn new knowledge and new skills throughout a working life, in order to remain viable in the workplace.

Already we are seeing technology employers giving strong preference to young employees that have the freshest education, with the most up-to-date capabilities.  Older candidates are bypassed for employment, regardless of their prior record of accomplishment and contribution.

Many factors are going into this evolution of the coming job environment.  One is the emergence of highly capable artificial intelligence (AI), particularly based on deep learning technology.  AI is going to take over a large majority of jobs that are primarily based on the application of procedural knowledge.  A second factor is the de-localization of knowledge-based work.  Such work can be done any place in the world that has a high-speed Internet connection.  Work is going to shift to international locations that have the lowest costs.  A third factor is that essentially all knowledge and information is going to be accessible online, able to be tapped by powerful analysis software.  It will no longer be sufficient to be a person with a specialized body of knowledge, as that knowledge will be widely available unless it is proprietary and protected.

The unfortunate conclusion is that a lot of people are simply not going to be employable on the basis of the capabilities they gained through the college and university environment we know today.  What will be necessary is lifelong continual learning to stay current.  One will likely need to redefine oneself multiple times over a career.  However, the current model of residential college and university programs is too expensive to make this practical.

What is really important in the coming job environment is learning how to learn—how to quickly acquire the latest information and skills through study in one’s own work and home environment.  Other aspects of priority for the coming world are high levels of creativity and adaptability.  Being able to work in a multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary mode will be highly valuable.  We need educational programs that facilitate these capabilities.

There will continue to be jobs that resist automation and internationalization.  These are ones where it is necessary to respond creatively in real time to unusual conditions found at the location.  Some crafts (e.g., plumbing) are in this category.  Other jobs require extensive high-quality hands-on human interaction, such as many aspects of health care and caregiving.  Currently these jobs aren’t especially well-paid compared with knowledge-work jobs, but this relationship may change in the coming years.

It will be interesting to see how colleges and universities adapt as they realize their situation in the coming environment.  Currently only the most elite institutions are thriving.  Second- and third-tier institutions are struggling, particularly as their costs skyrocket and students find it hard to justify the expense of their education on the basis of their resulting employment prospects.  Many students will never be able to pay off their college loans and will struggle financially throughout their careers.

The top schools, of course, benefit from being able to draw the very smartest students, who will be attractive to employers simply on the basis of their inherent talent.  Top schools are now competing with each other as to who can be the most selective, with some accepting around 5% of applicants.  This dynamic is interesting, in that there is limited evidence that the teaching in these institutions is that much superior to schools not so highly ranked.  The success of graduates increases the prestige of the school and thus raises its ability to be even more selective.  This is an example of the system dynamic of success to the successful.

2 thoughts on “Career Education in the Coming Job Environment”

  1. Hi Dennis:

    Supplemental to your observations, note the top salaries (three years after graduation) are also mostly in the science and engineering schools. (Probably programs, but US News & World Report doesn’t dig that deep.) I supply this in the spirit of urging you to supplement your general comments with specifics when feasible.

    Schools where graduates make highest starting salaries
    California Institute of Technology: $81,000
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology: $79,800
    Carnegie Mellon University: $71,600
    Stanford University: $70,700
    Colorado School of Mines: $69,700
    Stevens Institute of Technology: $69,000
    Worcester Polytechnic Institute: $68,800
    Princeton University: $68,400
    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: $68,400
    Georgia Institute of Technology: $68,100

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