Podcast: Future Career Skills and Preparing Students for the Workplace

On the HMH Learning Moments podcast today, we have the first episode of our new series, Shaping the Future! Tune in to hear about preparing students for the workplace and career readiness skills. Our expert guests talk about the skills needed in the workforce now and how educators can begin to cultivate critical skills for jobs of the future.

HMH Learning Moments Podcast Presents Episode 1 of Shaping the Future

HMH Learning Moments: Shaping the Future is hosted by Dr. David Dockterman, better known as “Dock”—an education lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education—as he talks to both education experts and thought leaders from other industries. Together, Dock and the co-guests will examine leading issues from across the K–12 industry and offer insights for educators to best “shape the future of education”. 

In our first episode, Dock is joined by George Anders and Dr. Bill Daggett to talk about future careers, job preparedness, and the evolving workforce—for students as well as teachers. George Anders is Senior Editor-at-Large at LinkedIn, a New York Times bestselling author, and a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter. His most recent book, You Can Do Anything, examines the merits of a liberal arts degree. Dr. Bill Daggett is Founder and Chairman at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) and the creator of the Rigor/Relevance Framework.

You can follow HMH Learning Moments: Shaping the Future wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Google Podcasts.

A full transcript of the episode is below. This episode was recorded via phone.

Expert Insights: Career Readiness Skills

Onalee Smith: Welcome to HMH Learning Moments, a production of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I'm Onalee Smith. I work at HMH, and this is the first episode of our next series, Shaping the Future. We'll examine leading issues in K–12 education and hope to inspire new innovations based on what other industries are doing successfully. Our host is Dr. David Dockterman, better known as Dock, who is an education lecturer at Harvard. Today he leads a roundtable with George Anders, senior editor at large at LinkedIn, and Dr. Bill Daggett, founder of the International Center for Leadership in Education, as they discuss the skills students will need for the future workforce and how the job of teaching is evolving. Now, here's Dock.

Dr. David Dockterman (Dock): Way back in the 20th century, forward-looking educators were calling on schools to teach a new set of basic skills. A combination of hard and soft skills that the rising generation would need to survive and thrive in a rapidly evolving technological world and workplace. Even before the explosion of artificial intelligence, these folks were anticipating increased automation and disruption. They were right. And business has stepped forward to fill the gap between the capabilities our schools foster and what the world of work demands. What can we learn from those sitting at the intersection of employee and employer to inform the future of workforce preparation and the role of our schools in that effort? I'm David Dockterman and this question is at the heart of this episode of the Shaping the Future podcast. I'm joined by George Anders, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and bestselling author. George’s most recent book, You Can Do Anything, examines the surprising value of a liberal arts education in a high-tech workplace. Along with George we have Bill Daggett founder of the International Center for Leadership in Education and the creator of the Rigor and Relevance Framework that is embraced by educators across the globe. Thank you both for joining this conversation.

[Note from Dock: Richard Murnane and Dick Levy made a strong case for soft skills in the 1990s in their book, Teaching the New Basic SkillsRead “Dancing with Robots” for an early 21st-century update.]

Dock: Both of you have thought a lot about what's needed today to be successful, to be ready for a changing—rapidly changing—world in the workplace. What do employers want? What do we need to produce, if we have people be successful?

George Anders: We do a lot of surveys at LinkedIn on exactly that question. We ask large groups of employers and the four things that come back consistently are communication, leadership, collaboration, and time management. To some extent these are eternal skills and we could have done the surveys in 1820 or 1950 and heard some similar things, but they all have new twists. And I'll just take a moment to highlight them. On communication, what we're seeing now is much more of a demand for oral communication rather than written. And that has big implications in our educational system because traditionally we've doubled down on writing skills. We regard that as the hallmark of educated person. But we're living in the world of podcasts and YouTube and TED talks and the very fact that we're doing this exchange of ideas via a podcast tells you something. So that raises the question how do people learn to express their ideas in a spoken setting? And both collaboration and time management are tremendously changed and dialed up in the environment we have now. The saturation, oversaturation, multitasking, input from all directions, blurred boundaries between work and play. So it's a noisy world out there. And being able to stay focused on task and being able to work with colleagues becomes two very central skills.

Dr. Bill Daggett: This is Bill and I’ll add to it. In many ways I agree with what George said but I'm going to phrase it in a different way. Dock, I think there's a big confusion between preparation for a job and preparation for a career. And when you talk to K–12 educators and they talk about preparation for a job they're talking about career in tech ed. What George is talking about is vitally important for long-term success and for actually even short-term success in the workplace. Because of the advancing technologies, if you can write an algorithm for a task, that task or that job is basically gone, because the technology can do it faster and more efficiently. And, therefore, those four sets of skills that George just identified, they are ones you can't write an algorithm for. I mean really in total agreement that they are a critical set of skills. I would also suggest that there are some others, however, like the ability to deal with and learn the advancing technologies. And I don't mean the job-specific skills but the everyday technologies. The very example: the podcasts we’re trying to do right now. The worker needs these types of skills in the 21st century. And they go beyond just the communication and collaboration. There was a study done recently by the McKinsey Group that identified the shift they saw in the workplace skills between now and the year 2030. And they talked about five basic skills. The first one was basic cognitive skills, and they said there will be a decline in the need for those. Why? Because the technology is going to do it. Two: physical manual skills, pretty major decline. Obvious reasons, the technology can do it. The third one, which showed a moderate increase in skills, were higher-order cognitive skills. The fourth one, however, showed a huge increase and it was in social and emotional skills. And George, when you talk about the communication skills, I think they are both set up for—they’re intimately intertwined with those social and emotional skills and the reality of it is if you talk to school administrators they're going to tell you there is an incredible increase in the problem of children not having those skills. So when it comes to SEL, social-emotional learning, I see those requirements going up, Dock and George, a whole lot while at the same time the kids coming into the school are coming with greater and greater deficits. It's an area that historically people haven't thought about in the workplace. And the final one is the more advancing technology skills that all of us are going to have. Just to stay on top of technology.

[Producer’s note: Read more about SEL in this primer, “What Is Social-Emotional Learning?”] 

Dock: So, so far we've identified some core skills, oral communication—oral communication over written communication in part because of the accessibility of things like podcasts. It's a little like going back to the future. Before we had writing it was all oral. Collaboration: The need to be able to work with others. Time management and focus in a world where we're constantly bombarded by new information. And both of you, George and Bill, focused on the importance of social-emotional skills. Those kinds of skills are also present for carpenters and plumbers and caregivers. Anyone who's interacting with other people. We really need those skills and they're not going to go away. Bill, you also brought up the importance of learning technical skills. Not just learning how to use technology today, but also how to learn how to adapt to technology that's constantly emerging. So how do we teach kids and prepare them for an unknown future, an unknown technological future?

Bill: What we’ve really got to train them to be in it, and—we've always had it, is lifelong learners. To be a lifelong learner, however, Dock, today you have to have more ability to interact, use effectively, and learn with the new and changing technologies. That's the shift. Technologies are a more important part of lifelong learning, but lifelong learning has always been important.

George: I think we want it to do double duty as much as possible and imbue all of the social-emotional skills that we've been talking about in whatever technical education we do. If we're gonna have people code, code in groups. If we’re going to help them work on projects, work on them collaboratively. Learn to engage with other people, to read the room, and I think the idea of building a curriculum with only one objective. . . we’re in a two-pronged world. We really need to succeed in both realms at the same time.

Bill: I couldn't agree more. And when we look at the reality of a school administrator and how you do that, one of our real problems organizationally is our staff is regulated, certified, tenured, contracted. The kids are tested. Teachers are evaluated in silos around disciplines. And when you really look at that set of skills you talked about, they become quite interdisciplinary. And that's why when you just said have kids learn how to code in groups. The group skill is even more important than the coding skill, but the coding still gives you an anchor. We've got to figure out how to move to a much more integrated instructional program in American schools if we're going to really prepare kids for their future. 

Dock: Well, this seems like an opportunity to talk about that. What can we learn from, if anything, from the way the workplaces are tackling this issue, right? This is part of the demand. George, you talked about surveying companies and these are the skills that they're looking for. And Bill, you talked about the McKinsey Report and what they're looking for. So if schools aren't yet producing those skills and companies are stepping in to fill that gap, how are they doing it, and maybe there's something we can learn from that. 

George: So, let me give you one example that sort of surprises me. On the educational front, I do see efforts to create team learning. I don't see much of an effort after the fact to go and evaluate what did the team do well, what could it have done differently. In the workplace, I see much more emphasis now on postmortems of if we're going to do a project like this again, what are the habits that we want to keep, what are the habits that we want to change. And the idea is to make sure that each cycle you go forward with a better net theme. And again this comes back to some of the problems we were just discussing, that we've overloaded our administrators and our teachers in so many ways and siloed them that it's hard to have that time to go, “How do we now build a learning moment at the end of the project?” as opposed to you turned in the project after A or your B or your C and now the next morning we're going to start the next one. There's so much learning that can be done going back and re-evaluating what people have done and somehow we've taken that out of the educational process. It’s is great, move on. It’s great, move on. And the workplace is both more demanding and more forgiving. It's set up an environment where people are coached to get better rather than evaluated bluntly and just told oh you're a C student. That's all we see.

Bill: Yeah. George, I would agree with you, but I don't lay on the teachers and administrators per se—it's the whole system. We started it when we doubled down on state testing as almost the single-most important thing we could possibly do in schools. And those state tests, and I spent part of my career running one of the largest state testing programs in the country, they test individual skills within individual disciplines. They don't test integration of skills, and George, they don't test what I call the continuous improvement model. And that's what I see in the business world. This concept of continuous improvement. We kind of have in the schools, well, you'll reach a point, you pass and tests, were done with that. It shouldn't be that. It should be constant continuous improvement. 

Dock: I think all of us have seen this trend for businesses to embrace becoming a learning organization and we can see it in the practices George that you described like postmortems. That businesses will look back on a project to review what they can do to improve both individually and as a team to make the next project better. They're constantly looking to learn from past practice to inform future practice. That's a great vision. But Bill you complain that schools really aren't set up that way. We prep for a test. We give a test. And then we move on. Learning is supposed to be an iterative process. George, you see it in companies. What do we do in schools?

George: So companies get on something as fundamental as in the academic setting we call class size. And in the work setting we call chain of command. And the usual operating unit is seven employees per boss. Ten is considered a bit high. And at that level you can have a fair amount of individualized attention. You can spend time developing plans with people. And as we push class sizes from 20 to 30 to 40 and in many inner-city environments you've got 49 or 50 kids in a class, it's hard to do much more than crowd control. The tempo of your classroom is going to be determined to some extent by the two or three students who are least engaged. And that makes it very difficult to teach to the middle, which is where an awful lot of improvement can happen.

Bill: Yeah, I think that's a problem, but I think we also have a problem that the people who are teaching in our schools. . . most of them liked school when they were a kid, so they went to college to major in school so that when they graduated from college they could return to school to do to others what had been done to them. And nearly everybody they interact with came through that same scenario. They're very caring people. They really want to do a good job. But they've spent their whole life in the traditional school environment, which means they really need massive retraining. And it is not the two days set in the school calendar for professional development. And so what we're finding as we work with a number of schools, and Dock, I think you are aware that I chair this national commission for AASA, the American Association of School Superintendents, looking at the nation's most successful innovative schools and I also chaired for CCSSO, Council of Chief State School Officers, the study on the nation's most rapidly improving schools. And in both cases what we found is they really changed how they trained their teachers. First of all, they spent a fair amount of time in creating culture—culture and strategy—a culture that said yeah, test scores are important. Content is really important, but it's not adequate. Essential but not adequate. And that we need these broader types of skills that I think George really nicely defined. And to do that, let us help you within your classroom and they move to executive coaching models where people are working with a teacher in the classroom rather than the kind of sit-and-get professional development. So I think it begins with creating a culture. And not holding the teachers, saying they're doing anything wrong. They're doing what they were trained to do. But create new cultures and say we’ve got to do things different. And then providing them on-the-ground training in their own classrooms of how to do it. That's what we're finding in both of our national studies. 

Dock: So, it's all workforce development, instead of, you know, you tend to skip the teachers. Right? It's just that here's what we have to do the kids now in order to get them ready but we skip what we have to do to develop the capacity of our teachers to provide that.

Bill: Yeah. And we have an accountability system that measures the opposite set of skills that George talked about. 

Dock: So, what does that mean? If we think about the development of in-house training in a sense, right? Companies are trying to do this. I think that part of what LinkedIn is doing is to provide a mechanism for individuals to come in and learn new skills, both hard and soft skills, and provide a mechanism for companies to provide those courses and customize those courses for their employees. And is that a kind of model that we might want to think about in the school workforce, the teacher educator workforce? To provide a mechanism for scaling this up?

[Note from Dock: Read more about “The Value of Soft Skills in the Labor Market”]

George: So, one of the things we've done [at LinkedIn] is to rethink what the interval of instruction should be. And a lot of what we have for our three-hour to five-hour video course is broken down into about three-minute lessons with some sort of summary material with each time. It's very much a step-by-step approach. But its aimed for the person who's busy, who's trying to sharpen up a few specific skills. We actually use it a lot more in the technical skills that we've described. If you want to learn how to do Photoshop, if you want to learn how to run QuickBooks, those kinds of business tools we’re the place to go to. We're building our curriculum in areas of leadership and general personal growth and that's an interesting area. But I keep coming back to the sense of in a very noisy busy world, can we get the nuggets of instruction to people in shorter amounts and have them build their own ladder of learning rather than trying to create these long extensive courses where it's just hard to hold people's attention. I see this everywhere. Attention span now is different than it used to be. And we need to sort of adapt whether we like it or not. 

Bill: Boy you saw right on the attention span in K–12. The kids today are an extension of their technology. They have been since the day they were born. If it takes five seconds for something to come up on their computer it's like my god, come on, come on, hurry up will you. And so they had never developed deferred gratification. And think about what you just said about the adult. The adult is not going to sit there for an hour. It's got to be those short little programs you talked about. Quick skill development. But in our schools, we still got the same bell schedule as we had a hundred years ago. We expect the kids to sit for 45 minutes, kind of sit-and-get, and that's why we need this fundamental shift. Dock, I think it would be interesting if we could take George and some of his training programs and share those with teachers and say we're not only teaching you through this methodology, we think you ought to think about doing this with your own students.

Dock: Teachers are busy professionals, maybe even busier than other professionals because their day is so tightly controlled and constrained. I remember as a teacher I barely had time to go to the bathroom and nights were all about grading and giving feedback and prepping for the next day. Maybe we really need to rethink nugget size of instruction not just for distracted students but also for the busy adults, the busy teachers. Their lives are full.

Bill: Let me throw a question out to both of you. Do you think that the skills that we need in our personal lives to manage our personal lives, our interaction with our families and friends, personal growth and development, do you think those skills and the skills in the workplace that we're describing today are closer to each other than they were in the past?

George: I think we've got a new workforce that would like them to be closer and that is blurring boundaries to a greater degree. So, yeah, we're probably moving in that direction. I think we could go back 40 or 50 years and your persona in the workplace is completely different than your persona at home. And I think that creates a lot of cognitive stress and people would rather not live that life. So, yes, particularly in the high-end cognitive field we tend to work in. But remember we've still got 11 million people working in manufacturing and as much as we'd like to bring all of these good principals to shop floor work, there are going to be some jobs that have just less room for it. But, yes, I think as we move out of the mechanical tasks that you've described where automation is taking over, there's room for people to live a life where their work and home identities are more unified.

Bill: I’ve spent some time in the last couple of years in looking at the manufacturing process. I'll give you example: the Kia plant down in Georgia and other places and to many people they don't understand that even those manufacturing workers on the line, manufacturing today that they are using a fundamentally different set of skills than they were even five years ago. They are coming closer and closer to having the need for those same set of skills you identified, which we historically think were for the professional higher-level jobs. They're being driven down in manufacturing. Even in retail, in places like WalMart now, are moving to the robotization of their warehouses and the restocking of their shelves and so on. So a lot of those traditional entry-level jobs which required more manual task and not necessarily higher-order cognitive skills, they're really disappearing and we're entering something called the augmented revolution is the term some people are using. That automated revolution are going to require even entry-level workers to have a higher and higher set of cognitive skills.

[Note from Dock: Read more about artificial intelligence (AI) and robots replacing workers.]

George: So do you know what one of the fastest-growing jobs at WalMart is? And it’s tiny now but it is expanding, is personal shopper. And the original thought is it's just Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus where you have personal shoppers, but you know it's a fast-changing world and that's entirely emotional-social skills connecting with the person who wants to spend ten thousand dollars at WalMart, you'll help them find the fishing rods and everything else they want. So, yes, I mean fewer people pushing a broom and more people understanding the psyche of the customer.

Bill: Yeah, great example.

Dock: I'm really delighted with the unexpected, for me, unexpected half of this conversation where we started by, I think, talking about the skills that employees needed and what schools should be producing. But we went from talking about kids to talking about teachers, and to really focusing on the capacity building we need to do with the education workforce. And I think there's some really interesting models that we can begin to draw on that are happening in other industries to help build those capabilities and to integrate those environments. And I think it's exciting and I hope we can accelerate that path because the world is changing and we got to keep up. 

George: Yep, well said. I think that sums up our conversation very well and it has been a really interesting journey and we've touched on a lot of high-impact exciting areas.

Bill: All three of us came at this from kind of a different perspective, but we all ended up in the same place. Pretty interesting. 

Dock: Yeah, I'm with you. I want to certainly thank George Anders and Bill Daggett for joining this conversation. The work you are each doing in very separate worlds seems really important and really critical. And I think there are incredible lessons that we can take away from our conversation to begin to act on.

Dock: Thank you for listening to our conversation. We began by reconfirming the 21st-century skills that companies, that the world is demanding today: oral communication collaboration, time management and focus, social-emotional skills, lifelong learning, the ability to adapt to a constantly and rapidly changing world, both technically and in very many ways. But we also talked about the education workforce, teachers, and shifting the culture of schools to enable us to deliver those 21st-century skills. We talked about adopting practices that businesses are using, like postmortems, for thinking about past practice to inform future practice. As students, looking back at my work, so that I can do better the next time. What can I learn from my past efforts? And for teachers, to look back at past practice, at a project, at a lesson, at a class, to make it better the next time. And turning learning into more of an iterative process rather than a test and move on process. We also talked about thinking, rethinking the nugget size of instruction. Not just for students who are constantly distracted by all kinds of information, but also for teachers. Adult time is very constrained in schools. And maybe we really need to, we need to rethink what adult capacity building looks like in that environment and not think about a two-hour block or a one-day block, but think about shorter blocks that are regularly done over time. Ten minutes every day to constantly build on my skills and practice them. And that kind of approach actually leverages what we know about learning. That getting good at something comes from sustained, ongoing, deliberate practice. And we can do that for teacher practice as well. So lots of new ideas. I want to thank you again for joining this episode of Shaping the Future, and I will leave it to Bill to share one final thought with you all.

Bill: Working with K–12 educators we need to recognize that we're preparing kids for their future, not our past. And our K–12 schools are really designed with still having the agrarian calendar, the industrial bell schedule, teaching courses in isolation, assessing students’ knowledge on those courses where the kids say basically you teach a test and lose it. That's not going to work to prepare them for the 21st century. We've got to look at new models. Models that bring high integration of skills that students really learn how to apply both in their personal and in their work lives.

Onalee: Thanks for listening and learning with us. In the next episode of Shaping the Future we cover civics education and sparking student engagement in a conversation between Dr. Emma Humphries, chief education officer at iCivics, and Sylvia Acevedo CEO of the Girl Scouts and author of Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist. You can hear new episodes of HMH Learning Moments by subscribing on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. We hope you enjoyed today's show and will please consider rating and reviewing or sharing with your network. You can join our community and read more on our Shaped blog by visiting hmhco.com/shaped. You can find the link in our show notes. HMH Learning Moments is produced by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, The Learning Company. Thank you again for listening.

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Dr. Bill Daggett will be a featured speaker at Leadership Academy 2020, February 4-6 in New Orleans, LA. Click here for more info and to register.

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