This concept may be a hard one for a lot of us to wrap our heads around, but there is a good chance that whatever your first job was will not be the first job of your students. This may sound pretty straightforward, but I think the idea is somewhat profound. When we stop to think about it, the entry-level positions of yesterday probably won't exist in the future. Whether these jobs come from the service sector, food service, or manual labor, there is a good chance that our students will not have access to the same positions that we did—and if they do, probably not on the same scale.
I think it’s important to stop for a second and think about how the world has changed. Think about how we have started to order food at McDonalds. We have TurboTax to do our taxes instead of an accountant. I don't actually have to vacuum my house anymore because my Roomba will do it. This same change has happened in many of the entry-level positions that were available 10, 20, and 30 years ago.
My first job was as a paperboy, and it actually paid really well. For all intents and purposes, that job doesn't exist anymore. Papers that are printed aren’t delivered much—most newspapers appear in your inbox in the morning and not on your doorstep. My second job was mowing lawns. We still need people to mow lawns today, but if a Roomba can vacuum a room, a similar device could also probably mow my lawn. The day is probably coming when mowing will be automated, too.
My third job was giving students tennis lessons in the summer. I would contend that this job isn’t quite the same—this is a job that comes with some security as it requires thinking, moving, adapting, and responding. There may come a day when this job doesn't exist anymore either, but that day is a little further down the road than some of the other examples.
Preparing Students for the Jobs of Tomorrow
There are a few challenges that come to mind when understanding this reality:
The first is how we can get our students ready for the workplace. These first jobs of mine allowed me to learn time management, responsibility, cooperation, and how to work with others. There wasn't a great amount of skill or knowledge needed for being a paperboy or a mower, but I learned a ton from each of these positions. So how can we get our students to learn those skills without them having access to those positions?
The second question that we must ask ourselves is what exactly are we preparing our students for? The workplace of the future may have less manual labor and less service industry positions. If this ends up being the case, what are the implications? These jobs are becoming more automated, so how do we prepare students for that? The oversimplified answer is that there will be more coding, computer science, and technical positions than ever before. Someone is going to have to fix and maintain the robots that perform all of these tasks that used to be someone’s first job.
The third, and probably most pivotal, conclusion that can be drawn is that jobs will be different in the future. The way that we need to prepare our students has changed, so hopefully our educational system will reflect this change. If that idea is scary to you, even scarier would be the idea that we're not exactly sure how education and career preparation should be changed. Students will need technical skills, employability skills, and the ability to adapt and learn. This is the future we must prepare our students for.
The entry-level positions of today are not the positions of the past—at least not on the same scale. As these societal realities shift and change, our schools should as well. Schools, as institutions, are not known for adjusting to these changes well, so it will be up to the guidance of the professionals involved to make sure that our students are prepared for the future that is before them. This change probably won’t be as simple as adjusting once, but we will now be in the process of a continual cycle of making sure our educational system is always able to meet the needs of our students.
Check out our The Big Guide to STEM, which highlights the changing makeup of tomorrow’s workforce and provides great resources to help prepare your students.