Careers Last a Long Time Today

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Don’t mind me. Just situating my soap box.

Clears throat.

Let’s talk a bit more about today’s educational system and the push to graduate high-school and college students who employers can put straight to work without additional training. (The mere notion makes me laugh. I mean, really.)

In a previous post, I mentioned the difficulty schools would have in providing highly specific job skills in a rapidly evolving marketplace. Technology transforms many trades in a blink. Knowledge work—engineering, design, marketing, accounting, and the like—changes at lightning speed. How can schools reasonably develop curricula to accommodate all possible professions and their snap-speed evolution?

They can’t.

And, logistical challenges aside, high school and college shouldn’t compromise foundational curricula in favor of highly specific job-skills training for an entirely different reason: Solid foundational education provides the soft skills necessary for long-term employment.

The length of a person’s working life has increased in recent years. Today, people start work after leaving school—whether at age sixteen, eighteen, twenty-two, or twenty-three—and work until their midsixties and even later. Gallup’s 2013 Economy and Personal Finance survey found that the average retirement age has increased to sixty-one years of age from fifty-seven years of age in 1991.

Sure, the recent recession has pushed back retirement for many, but people today live healthier lives for longer than ever before. They feel viable and valuable well beyond the age at which their parents may have opted for more time in a rocking chair.

Over the course of decades, even someone who stays in a particular career field for the full term of his working life will see the nature of his profession change exponentially. I started FrogDog in 1997, when many features of today’s marketing landscape didn’t exist. The particulars through which we put the principles of marketing into action now include social media, viral video, text messaging, big data, and location-based marketing via smartphone.

Who knows what the next decade or two will bring?

Does it make sense to spend precious resources to train students in something highly specific that may not have relevance soon after graduation? If you train youth too narrowly in high school and college, they’ll need retraining relatively quickly.

As I argued in my earlier post on education and the job market and in a post on the value of a liberal-arts education, schools should focus on teaching youth to think—to learn, research, assess, analyze, problem solve, adjust to new information and situations, and continually grow—and employers should provide more on-the-job skills training for people entering the workforce for the first time.

If companies want workers at the forefronts of their fields, they need to encourage continual employee development. So why not start with fresh graduates?

And if today’s worker wants to stay relevant, he needs to continue to independently increase his knowledgebase. A foundational education in soft skills that make it possible for him to understand how to approach and manage change, gather and integrate new information, and research and solve problems in dynamic situations will facilitate ongoing career growth—and a robust, healthy economy.