Wake Up to Educating the Future Workforce

Emerging technology is shifting our workforce toward intellectual capital and changing the ways we educate both students and adults. Is your association prepared to train members in the skills they'll need in the future?

I am a chronic abuser of the snooze button. Every morning when my alarm blares, I choose the snooze. I choose the easy way out, to ignore the new day for another nine minutes. Most days I do this at least a few times. Then, eventually, I see the time and realize I’m running late, and my morning begins in a rush.

I’ve been pressing the snooze on another alarm for a while now, too. But the time on the clock finally registered last week. At the 2013 Digital Now conference, in multiple presentations—none of which were ostensibly related—the topic of education kept arising. Specifically, in regard to the coming revolution in education as an industry and as a societal challenge. Forces of change are at work that are dismantling the traditional ways we educate, from grade schools to universities to professional training. I’d been hearing this for a while now, but I came away from the conference convinced that it’s time for associations to rethink their roles in our education system. Here’s why:

Creativity, knowledge, experience, judgment, foresight, intuition. All of that robots don’t have. … That’s what we’re going to have to train workers to do, to create intellectual capital.

Jobs. In the Thursday opening general session, an attendee asked futurist Dr. Michio Kaku about the threats of emerging technologies. His response:

“The problem is the job market. … The job market is changing yet again from commodity-based capital to intellectual-based capital, and that requires more education. … For example,when you buy stocks today, does a stock broker broke stocks? No. … You can buy stocks on your cell phone, so what do you talk to a stock broker about? What robots cannot provide: intellectual capital. Creativity, knowledge, experience, judgment, foresight, intuition. All of that robots don’t have. … That’s what we’re going to have to train workers to do, to create intellectual capital, because the day-to-day transactions are going to be obsolete. Computers will do all those things. Which means we have to elevate our workforce, which means we have to change the educational system once again. (Watch online here, jump to 18:45.)

Young members. Later on Thursday, John W. Martin, president and CEO of the Southeastern Institute of Research, shared advice based on Digital Now’s Technology Leadership survey and SIR’s research on generational preferences that shows members of generation Y are losing confidence in their career prospects. “Focus on their skills. Help your youngest members,” Martin said. “Their biggest area of their concern is how they can have portable skills. It’s not about your industry anymore. It’s still important to your old members, but it’s going to be more and more important that you help your youngest members really relate to their own skill set.” (Watch online here, jump to 35:50.)

Technology. In another session, participants discussed the rise of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). In a sign of their gaining traction, as one attendee pointed out, a bill in California would require the state’s colleges and universities to grant credit for outsourced online education courses such as MOOCs. The presenter in that same session, Dr. David Metcalf at the University of Central Florida, shared several cutting-edge projects in learning technology that he and doctoral fellows are working on at the The Mixed Emerging Technology Integration Lab, in formats such as mobile, gaming, and virtual worlds.

Innovation. And in the closing general session, John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, made the case for the value of art and design education to our ability to innovate, the key tenet of a national campaign to expand STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education to STEAM (by adding an A for art).

To be fair, I’ve seen a lot of smart people sounding this alarm for a while now: Clay Shirky; Shelly Alcorn, CAE; Elizabeth Engel, CAE; Jeff Cobb; Jeff Hurt; and Samantha Whitehorne, to name a few. For whatever reason, I’ve been pressing a mental snooze button on the topic, but I think I’m finally awake to it now.

Associations have a vital role to play in educating the workforce of the future, through both their own professional development programs and partnering with other institutions to advance the quality of public and private education at all levels. Much of the content and methods associations use in professional development must evolve, too, and soon.

Last year, Associations Now highlighted the Online News Association’s ONACamp, a traveling series of free courses training journalists in the newest tools of the trade. The mission of ONACamp is simple, but a good one to follow.

“We saw a lot of journalists being fired and laid off and newspapers closing, and that was affecting the digital side of journalism, which is what we’re interested in. The first thing we thought we could help with was training,” said Jane McDonnell, executive director of ONA. “We wanted to make journalists more hireable.”

If a call to action toward a greater social mission isn’t enough for you, consider that your association’s ability to train its industry for the future may be a matter of your own survival. There’s revenue to be made in education, of course, but leading your members to develop their skills to meet emerging workforce needs also ensures that your association will continue to actually have a member market in the future. If you keep pressing the snooze button instead, you might wake up to find the world has passed your industry by.

What is your association doing to either improve K-20 education or lead your members in the pursuit of lifelong learning?


Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!