Over the past few years, more and more thought leaders have spent their time trying to explain the reason for the growing economic stratification that’s occurring in the U.S. and abroad. In the book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, author Thomas Piketty uses historical data to show that the high-concentration of wealth we are seeing today is merely the return of more historical wealth distribution patterns.
In The Second Machine Age, computers and robots are driving opportunity and growth for those with specialized skills, but leaving too many our neighbors with ordinary skills facing an uncertain future.
Are we destined to live in a world of haves and have-nots? What can our community do to help break this cycle? It might be helpful to first look at where it all starts: in our schools. Our K-12 system is where most students are set up for future success or failure. Case-in-point: career advice provided to many children occurs way too late (if at all) to help students make good decisions on their high school or post-secondary education options.
A lack of internships and summer job opportunities further compounds this problem and leaves our children with little or no way to make well-informed career decisions. This dearth of policy and tactical investment has left our nation’s employers with too few highly skilled workers.
So how do we help our students in a time of shrinking government investments?
First, we need to realize that government is bad at predicting the future, so simply adding more high-school career advisors will not ensure success. What we really need is for more employers to become engaged with local schools. We need business to view internships, co-ops and apprenticeships as critical components of its supply chain, and we should encourage this behavior through tax credits like our neighbors in South Carolina have done.
We can further incentivize investment in human capital by encouraging national organizations such as the Financial Accounting Standards Board to develop new ways to track and reward companies that develop their talent supply chain, much as companies currently show goodwill or other intangible assets on their balance sheets.
We also desperately need to invest in creating better career-advising options. We need a system that relies less on inconsistent and expensive face-to-face coaching and move to one that’s scalable, portable and knowledgeable. Using today’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology, we have the ability to give kids their own personal talent managers who would follow them throughout their careers and advise them on such issues as when it’s time to refresh their skills at the local community college or suggest an upcoming MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).
The managers may recommend reading an article on a new industry trend or encourage the students to ask for a raise after finding that their wages are 10 percent below market-rate. It could even suggest leaving their current jobs for new opportunities that would round out their resumes.
Along with this “virtual career advisor,” we need to develop better tools and resources for teachers and parents to ensure they understand where the jobs in our region will come from and the skills necessary to succeed at them. We also need to guarantee students, parents and teachers have access to better interest- and skill-assessment tools to help students make more informed decisions about their careers.
Our careers and skills have a much shorter shelf life than in past generations. It’s no longer realistic to expect tomorrow’s workforce to successfully manage a 50-plus-year career using the tools available today. Young people lack the roadmap previous generations took for granted, and it’s up to local, regional and state leaders to develop new pathways to success. The drivers of these pathways include business leaders, educators, economic developers, students, parents and policymakers all working together to provide our future workforce with work-learn opportunities throughout their K-12 educations.
The world of workforce development is poised for massive change in the coming decade. Charlotte Works is committed to being a driver of opportunity and unleashing the potential of our future workforce.