April 10, 2017

Skilled Labor or Higher Education? There's a Third Way

No really. There is a third path — one that is bigger and global, where we move away from assuming that all high school seniors go on to college or trade school or anything at all but “ad hoc” training.

Is this a case of “what’s old is new again?” No. This is big. When we — and hopefully school counselors — sit down to talk to our children about their future, we would be remiss to only talk about the “old ways.” That simply is not the amorphous reality our kids face tomorrow. Here’s why.

Higher Education

The age-old stigma that “you could have done better” — if you do not go to college and you love something not requiring a college degree like becoming an auto mechanic — has faded. Today, college graduates are heavily in debt, have difficulty finding jobs, apply to hundreds of positions without hearing back from one potential employer. U.S. employers have a bad reputation for insisting on perfectly qualified candidate delivered on a silver spoon or they won’t hire, resulting in a “skills standoff.” Employers want workers to fill a role right away without any training. Why spend the money on an employee who may leave short-term? To get a job, you have to have that job already. Filling a job vacancy is like inserting a part into a washing machine. You either are the part or you aren’t. So the employer waits … and waits … resulting in both millions of unemployed people and unfilled job positions.

Skilled Labor 

Our region has a huge deficit of qualified skilled workers. Compared to higher ed, apprenticeships are the new college, without the debt. That’s attractive. EDAWN’s big push for certification training (which can result in a good-paying job right away) might be what we need to support industry. But is it what today’s job seekers want? Does Nevada's high-school-educated population have the skills to pass the reading, writing and math skills test requirements for today’s modern warehouse or manufacturing jobs where the modern toolbox is now the computer?

The "Other" Options 

Creating it: What about the grade-school-aged kid being homeschooled through online ed who has a great idea and starts a company, then never goes to traditional high school, college or trade school at all? With a strong set of mentors, a problem worth solving and an idea that seems strong, kids – not just adults – are converting their passion into entrepreneurial profit-generating businesses.

Gigging it: Upwork and the Freelancers Union annual report found that 55 million more people chose to freelance this year, or 35 percent of the total U.S. workforce. Almost 81 percent of traditional workers surveyed said they would “be willing to do additional work outside of (their) primary job if it was available and enabled (them) to make more money.” Freelancers in the “gig economy” select projects around the world, while employers can select the best individuals from a global pool. Rather than being forced into a position or resolving to their inability to attain employment, giggers pick up whatever temporary gigs they can land (think Uber). People tend to change jobs several times throughout their working lives and the gig economy is an evolution of that trend.

How Do We Prepare Our Kids?

Our work experience will differ vastly from theirs. Their friends might already be coding and creating their own apps for sale on Google Play. Artificial intelligence, software and robotics are replacing human labor and or doing things more quickly, which has displaced some industries altogether. Traditional postsecondary education is not a fluid enough solution. What education will be required for this shifting, out-of-the-box cultural and business environment? We might not be able to guide them. They will probably be comforting us on how to adjust to their workplace reality while creating their customized education tools as they go.

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Applied's COO, contributed to this article.


Read original published in the Reno-Gazette Journal here.

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