For What Kind of Future Work Are We Educating Our Kids?

In There Is Life After College, Jeff Selingo explores why students struggle to launch into a career after college and how they can better navigate the route from high school through college and into the work world. It will be released by HarperCollins April 12, but pre-order your copy now for a free signed bookplate. 

If you want one example of how the modern workplace is being rapidly reshaped by advancing technology and global economic forces, just take look at a recent graduating class at Michigan State University.

In 2014, Procter & Gamble hired graduates from 86 different majors at Michigan State, reflecting P&G’s eagerness to hedge its bets to find the right match. The same year, General Motors and Dow Chemical together hired just 32 graduates from the Big 10 university. Three decades ago, those two companies hired 340 graduates.

The seismic shift in how campus recruiting is done these days makes it extremely difficult for college graduates to figure out what they need to do to best prepare for the workforce.

“We’re asking 23-year-old new graduates to act like 35-year-old experienced workers,” Phil Gardner told me for my forthcoming book, There Is Life After College. Gardner is director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State.

The share of prime-working-age people who are in the labor force is at its lowest level since the mid-1980s.

We know there are odd things happening in the job market right now that we can’t seem to explain. The share of prime-working-age people who are in the labor force is at its lowest level since the mid-1980s. The share of men between 25 and 54-years-old who aren’t employed has risen sharply in the past three decades. As a result, a middle-income American family makes substantially less money in inflation-adjusted terms than it did 15 years ago.

Entire industries are disappearing almost overnight. Legacy companies are quickly changing course, all disrupted by technology and globalization in recent years, even stalwarts like law, accounting, and medicine. One recent study predicts that nearly half of American jobs are at risk from automation and artificial intelligence.

Top 5 Jobs Least Likely To Be Automated 

(Source: Economist) 

Yet colleges are under more pressure than ever to help their students find precise routes into careers when those routes don’t exist anymore.

What kinds of jobs is our education system supposed to be preparing students for? How does anyone know what the job market might look like in two or four years? Giving solid career advice to teenagers or young adults these days seems about as safe a bet as picking stocks or trying to win at roulette.

Giving solid career advice to teenagers or young adults these days seems about as safe a bet as picking stocks or trying to win at roulette.

So how are students, along with their parents, teachers, and professors supposed to navigate this new world? What are employers looking for and what does the modern economy need in its workforce? After spending the last two years talking to employers of all sizes and kinds from Facebook and Pinterest to Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Macy’s, I discovered several approaches to help students find gainful employment and life after college. Among them:

A flexible mindset.

Success in the future will belong to those able to tolerate ambiguity in their work. Too many recent graduates approach their job descriptions the way they did a syllabus in college—as a recipe for winning in a career. They want concrete, well-defined tasks, as if they were preparing for an exam in college. But jobs are a mash-up of duties. Students who use their undergraduate years by pursing a mix of activities, intensive classroom time as well as outside the classroom opportunities, such as research projects or internships, have the most success in launching into a career.

Focus on the soft skills.

Nearly every employer I talked with complained about the lack of “soft skills” in today’s college graduates—customer service, problem solving, planning, and being detailed oriented. They came up so often in conversations that we should begin calling them the “hard skills” because they seem so difficult to teach.

Instead, our education system from primary school through college seems so focused on teaching skills that will be automated in the future. The jobs that are growing the most are those that require high social skills as well as analytical skills, according to David Deming, an associate professor of education and economics at Harvard University.

Sure, major in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math), but you also need a solid grounding in the liberal arts and find outside the classroom experiences for the soft skills.

Fastest Growing Jobs Require Social, Math Skills

(Source: New York Times) 

Cultivate informal networks.

One reason why physical campuses won’t be replaced anytime soon by entirely online education is because college still provides the best network for someone starting out. Most of the students I interviewed said they found their best internships and jobs by networking with classmates or by participating in on-campus clubs and activities. That’s why students, and especially their parents, drive themselves crazy to get into Stanford or Penn or Harvard. It’s not because the education is so much better at those places; it’s because of the network students connect to, through the parents of their classmates, alumni, and eventually through the students themselves when they become alumni.

These are just some of the skills that students today need to cultivate to navigate school. In today’s work world, it’s critical that new graduates stay one step ahead of technology and focus more on what computers can’t yet do well: show creativity, have judgment, and play well with others.

Jeffrey Selingo is author of three books on higher educationYou can follow his writing here, on Twitter @jselingo, on Facebook, and sign up for free newsletters about the future of higher education at

He is a regular contributor to the Washington Post’s Grade Point blog, a professor of practice at Arizona State University, and a visiting scholar atGeorgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities.


Originally posted on Linked In by: 

Contact John Assunto for all of your Education Recruiting needs! or 860-387-0503



Posted on February 23, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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