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    Entries in education (6)


    No more philosophy majors?

    For a 'I can't believe it's mid-April and my flight is probably going to get canceled because it is STILL snowing Friday', an interesting piece of news from a couple of weeks ago on how one university is seeking to re-align many of its programs of study with its assessment of labor market changes and trends.

    The TL;DR version?

    No one wants to hire History, English, or Philosophy majors. (I am not sure that this is actually true by the way, but that seems to be the conclusion). Here's some details from a recent piece in Fortune on what the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point is proposing:

    One university doesn’t think its students need to pursue English as a major anymore. Or philosophy, history, or Spanish.

    The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point has proposed dropping more than a dozen majors currently offered through its humanities and social sciences departments. The university would instead offer programs with “clear career pathways.".

    Included in the list of majors to be dropped are the above mentioned history, English, and philosophy as well as programs in geography, (who needs that when we have GPS?), political science, (that seems like it would be in demand these days), and American studies, (that actually sounds really interesting to me).

    Other programs to be expanded or created in this effort to better align the University's programs with what is or at least seems to be happening in the job market include chemical engineering, finance, marketing, (Is there really a shortage of marketers?), and geographic information science, (sounds like geography).

    While this is not really a remarkable or surprising bit of news, I do find it interesting when thinking about what many smart folks seem to say about how work is changing, how automation and AI are replacing (or augmenting), many kinds of labor and roles, and what are the true skills all workers will need to be successful and employable in the robot future.

    And by that I am talking about the kinds of human skills and traits that can't easily or perhaps shouldn't be replaced by machines or algorithms - creativity, empathy, emotional understanding, appreciation of (yes I am saying it), history and philosophy. Sure, the kinds of 'hard skills' and technical programs that this university wants to emphasize are currently in demand, but like many (or all) kinds of technology and science roles, the likelihood of automation and more advanced AI tools replacing them (or at least reducing the need for some human labor) in them is pretty high.

    I am not totally sure what 'Geographic information science' is, but I would be willing to bet that technology will be able to perform lots of what that role requires much sooner than any kind of technology would be able to think, reason, assess, and communicate like a talented philosophy graduate.

    And by the way, if I was looking for new marketing talent, I might prefer a philosophy major or a sociology major anyway.

    Figuring out what kinds of skills are going to be needed and in demand in a changing and dynamic labor market is certainly not easy, and I understand that universities also have practical challenges and have to produce and offer programs that will attract students, (and parents).

    But while there is a lot of data and science that shows where the (current) jobs are there is also some art to producing the kinds of talent that will best be able to help the economy thrive.

    And we probably can't do art, at least not well,  if we stop teaching art.

    Have a great weekend!


    The Mindset List

    I am such a mark for Beloit College's annual Mindset List, a look at some of the important and sometimes really surprising changes that have occurred in the last 18 years or so, or expressed differently, just how much differently this year's crop of college freshmen have experienced and view the world compared to us older folks.

    Right off of the bat, Beloit reminds us that this new group of students, (mostly born in 1987), have never known a world where hybrid cars were not mass produced, South Park has not always been on TV, and among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

    The Mindset List is always an interesting read every year, but the odd thing about the list is that while it describes and highlights the world view and perspectives of 18 year olds, they are the ones who are likely the least interested in the actual contents of the list. Their world and world view is just what it is. They don't stop to try and think of or conjure up a time where free Wifi did not exist in every Starbucks in the world. It is the modern version of the classic 'I had it much worse than you' line that every parent in every generation for the entire history of time has at one point leveraged to try to make their children feel guilty about how good they have things.

    I am serious, the first evidence of this phenomenon in recorded history was from some primitive cave drawings and inscriptions found in France. Loosely translated, they read, 'Sure kid, it's so easy to kill that antelope with that accurate, sharpened spear. When I was your age, all we had to fight for our lives with was a big rock.'

    These kinds of admonitions have only weakened over time. I can recall on more that one occasion lamenting to my son that he did not understand how good he actually had things, since when I was his age my TV remote WAS ACTUALLY ATTACHED TO THE TV WITH A LONG CORD.

    Hard times for sure.

    There are some real gems on the Mindset List for this year of course, here are a couple of my personal favorites. Incoming college freshmen:

    They have never licked a postage stamp.

    When they were born, cell phone usage was so expensive that families only used their large phones, usually in cars, for emergencies.

    Their proud parents recorded their first steps on camcorders, mounted on their shoulders like bazookas.

    There are plenty more gems like that on the list, and I recommend taking a few minutes to take a look at the entire piece.

    I know it is a little obvious, and maybe seems kind of unimportant to most of us but it is really, really easy to lose sight of just how much the world and technology and society and work and everything else changes in a relatively short time. 

    It is good, no matter how old or young we are, to think about how folks not quite like us see and understand the world.


    First day of school

    Today, September 4, is the first day of school where I live in Western New York. 

    The first day of school is almost like a second chance at a New Year, the unofficial start of a four month sprint to the end of the calendar year, at which point many if not most of us will take stock of the last 12 months, organizing events into little mental win and loss columns, and just as likely set a course for the next 12 months, usually in hopes that whatever disappointments the just concluded year revealed, that the new start the turning of the calendar page provides can help to wipe away regret and point the way towards something better. In a way, the first day of school is a built-in status check or reference point on how the year has progressed.Generic image of school buses

    For me, as I think about where things sit as the bus pulls away, I am one of the really lucky ones I'd say.

    I am doubly fortunate to have both a really interesting and challenging job and to have the the flexibility I usually have in my schedule that I was able to seem my new middle school son off to this morning, as well as be able to see him when he returns home this afternoon.

    Lucky for sure.

    Recently, a friend, an executive in her organization told me about the first day of school preparations where she lives, a part of the country where school started a few weeks back. The day before the big day, as she left the office, she casually mentioned to one of her team members something like, 'Goodnight Mary Sue, I'll see you tomorrow around 10 or so?'

    Mary Sue was a little taken aback, and asked, 'What do mean, I plan to be in at 8:00?', (her 'normal' start time). 

    And my friend said, 'Well I will be in at around 10, tomorrow is the first day of school in my town, and I definitely don't want to miss getting the kids off in the morning. I would think you would want to do the same, so take care of them, and then come in after that.'

    Mary Sue was momentarily speechless, and then finally replied, 'Thank you, thank you very much, that really means a lot to me, and no boss has ever thought to offer to let me be with the kids on the first day of school. I will be in just as soon as the bus leaves.'

    We study and ponder and measure and opine about engagement, motivation, performance, blah blah blah. Honestly, it's all getting kind of boring. Managers and leaders, (and certainly employees), simply remembering that the organization is composed of actual living, breathing, feeling, and caring people, and occasionally acting upon that realization is probably in the long run more important to the success of organizations and our ability to feel like we are doing the right thing with our lives.

    I do believe I am a lucky guy. I'd guess I would call Mary Sue lucky as well.

    Happy First Day of School!


    Titanic : Or, I'm comfortable not knowing

    Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, which accounts for the recent upsurge in news and events surrounding the ship's tragic fate, as well as the return of the incredibly popular 1997 movie, (now in 3D!) titled, aptly, Titanic.It's not just a movie!!!

    For a combination of reasons - the scale and luxury of the incredible ship itself, the many pronouncements of its 'unsinkability' prior to it well, sinking, the presence onboard of many of the time's super rich and elite, and finally the sheer scope and sadness of the tragedy that saw over 1,500 perish in the freezing sea; the Titanic story seems even more popular and in the societal conscious than ever before. The 1997 film played a significant role of course in cementing the Titanic story in our collective minds, it was for many years following its release the highest grossing film ever, and even now is still second in Worldwide box office receipts. With close to $2B in worldwide ticket sales and about 178,294 additional showings in the last 15 years on cable TV, chances are really, really high that everyone has seen this movie, or at least is familiar with it. It remains a legendary achievement in pop culture history.

    The popularity and ubiquity of the 1997 movie has also had some unexpected effects on the understanding and interpretation of the actual events of the Titanic in the minds of some observers. Namely, it turns out that lots of people, (mostly young people), did not realize that Titanic was not just a movie, but an actual historical event. There have been loads of articles posted about this, this one from the Gothamist is a good example, and they (mostly), take the same kind of condescending slant of 'Can you believe these dumb kids?' and 'Our culture is doomed once these numbskulls are in charge.'. After all, the reasoning goes, how can you not know the Titanic story, it has been told, re-told, revised, re-revised, told some more, dramatized, and finally re-dramatized pretty much endlessly for the last 100 years.

    So here's where I disagree with that kind of reasoning, particularly when it comes to 'adults' passing judgment on say the average 15 or 16 year-old that might not have realized that there was an actual Titanic, and not just the boat that Leo DiCaprio sailed on in 1997. The history of the Titanic is at best marginally interesting, and 100 years later the continued fascination with the tale is to me, kind of baffling. Yes, it was an amazing story; yes, there is some historical significance; yes, subsequent efforts to analyze, understand, and interpret the events have yielded some important insights; but the level to which this singular event has been elevated is in my view way out of rational proportion.  

    If the 1997 movie was the first and only introduction and experience to the story for say anyone under 25 years of age, I am perfectly fine with that. And I'd submit that there are likely about a thousand other subjects that we as a society should be concerned that our next generation of workers and leaders need to know more about, the details of an ocean liner sinking in 1912 fall really low on that list.

    Recently Naomi Bloom ran an excellent piece on the difficulty of keeping up with everything, and the importance of applying perspective, choice, and reasoning in the battle against an endless and unyielding stream of information.  The main point - you have to pick your spots, you can't know everything, and you have to decide what is truly relevant and meaningful. 

    If keeping up with every nuance in the 100-year old Titanic story seems valuable to you, then that is fantastic, but don't crack down on some 17 year-old that doesn't see it the same way, or even never gave the entire episode a second thought once the movie ended. There are likely about a million things I'd rather have that kid be familiar with, (cruise control is not the same as auto-pilot would be one), than knowing if John Jacob Astor made it to the lifeboat in 1912.


    Disconnect (but rendered in nice colors)

    I sort of think the infographic craze is starting to get a bit played out and certainly a bit overused. But once in a while I catch an infographic, (or in this case two infographics), that whether it is the compelling design or simply the starkness of the data being described I think are worth sharing. 

    Both the below infographics are from the GOOD.is site, and when taken together, they paint a picture of a significant disconnect between the education and demonstrated achievement that today's employers demand, and the stark reality of trends in demographics and experiences in a changing and increasingly diverse population. Take a quick look at the two charts and think about the data for a minute.

    Chart 1 - Educating the Workforce of the Future (click image to see in full-size)

    Money point : We need to produce significantly more workers with either Bachelor's or at least Associate's or Trade School credentials to meet the expected demand for these skills.

    Source : GOOD.is

    Chart 2 - The Opportunity Gap (click image to see in full-size)

    Money point : The faster growing segments of our population also have the worst prospects to attain the advanced degrees and certifications that we know the workplace will increasingly demand.

    Source : GOOD.is

    There's an obvious disconnect here between what kinds of education and experiences the future worplace will require, and the ability of the complex combination of primary schools, colleges, trade schools, labor unions, communities, government, and really all of us to provide. It can be argued that on a micro-level that employers can and should relax some of these often artifical educational requirements, and that these kinds of barriers really don't do a great job at helping organizations obtain superior talent. I even took on the subject here once. 

    But even if some employers take steps to expand their thinking around degree requirements there is no doubt that overall, the gap or disconnect in education and skills will persist, and possibly drive even more work, opportunity, and income to other parts of the world that are adapting more rapidly to these changes that we are here in the US. 

    I certainly don't have a simple answer to address these kinds of systemic, structural issues, but I do think that talking about them more is a needed initial step.

    What do you think? What can we do to better prepare for these shifts?

    Hat tip to Bryon Abramowitz whose presentation on these topics at the Aquire Structure 2011 conference put the bug in my ear to start thinking about this topic.