21st Century Job Skills?

I heard a story on NPR this week about where the jobs will be in the new decade.

I have heard many educators say that we really can't educate students for the jobs they will have after graduation because many of those jobs don't exist yet.

Is that really true? Or is that the kind of future thinking that told us in the 1960s that we would be using jet packs and air-cushioned cars in 2010?

Do a search for 21st century skills and you'll get more than a million hits. But do these "21st century skills" prepare students for 21st century jobs?

Decade one of the 21st century hasn't been very good for job seekers (particularly the latter part of it). Since the recession began two years ago, the U.S. has lost more than 7 million jobs.

Getting BACK those jobs and adding NEW ones is quite an agenda. The NPR story doesn't make it sound better.

Just to regain the jobs we've lost will be a huge challenge, says Harvard University labor economist Lawrence Katz. "We would need well over 300,000 [jobs] a month for four years in a row just to make up what we've lost in the last couple of years," Katz says.He says there are very few periods in U.S. history when job growth has been that strong."So we're in a very deep hole," Katz says. "A normal recovery will not get us there for a very long time."
We often look ahead by looking behind. In our recent past, job growth for the high-paying jobs and the low-paying jobs at both ends of the labor market has been strong. It's the jobs in the middle (many of which are the lost and well-paying manufacturing jobs) that we are losing and that trend is projected to continue in the new decade according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The BLS' optimistic news is the jobs they expect to provide the greatest number of new jobs over the next decade.

The top 10 are:

1. Registered nurses
2. Home health aides
3. Customer service representatives
4. Food preparation and serving workers
5. Personal and home care aides
6. Retail salespersons
7. Office clerks
8. Accountants
9. Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants
10. Post-secondary teachers

How does that match with what your school offers?

Half of those are low-skill, low-wage jobs that may require training, but don't require a college degree.However, one suggestion in the NPR story is that some of these jobs could "move up the skills ladder"  through education to provide better service and command higher wages.

The health care sector will produce 4 million new jobs - including the high-skill, high-paying ones like doctors and nurses. If you include with health care the other parts of the "service sector," you have 96% percent of all new jobs.

When I was pre-college, I heard that being an accountant was a good career choice. (My math teachers told me otherwise...) It's still seen as a good opportunity and pays about $59,000 on annual average. Nursing also has a large number of openings with a median wage of more than $62,000 a year.

Of course, academics often say that the job of schools is not to train students for jobs, but to train their minds. I'm not sure most students would agree.

When I wrote "Redefining Universities and How We Teach and Learn" last summer, I wasn't thinking specifically about jobs - but maybe I should have included that. Though the radio story doesn't say it, it seems to me that these job predictions and statistics point at high schools, community colleges and certificate programs - and maybe at at redefined four-year institutions. That is, if schools have a responsibility to prepare students for the world of work.


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