Saturday, October 03, 2015

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future

There are famous opening lines in fiction.  Like, "Call me Ismael." Or, "All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."  "Mother died today" is another opener and so is "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."  The first sentence sets up the reader for what is to come later on.

We lesser mortals suck at powerful and memorable opening lines, especially in reports and op-eds.  But, every once in a while, I do find one, which is what happened earlier this morning, when I read this:
Only the brave or foolhardy would claim knowledge about the shape of jobs for the next decade, let alone the rest of the 21st century.
Kaboom!  TKO right away.

The next time the university lets out yet another stinking fart that is disguised as as a degree program with stellar employment potential, I should remember to quote them that sentence.  But then I keep forgetting that I am incommunicado ;)
So if we’re not sure what the jobs of the future will look like, what kind of tertiary education can prepare students for the world of work?
Isn't that the gazillion dollar question!

Last week, during the introductory meetings, I shared with students my thoughts on higher education, which were not that different from what I have been telling students for years: they are not preparing for a job, but are investing their time and money in order to pick up valuable skills that will help them adapt to changes that will keep coming at rates even faster than the changes that we have experienced until now.  The more they can easily adapt, the more they will be able to survive in the brutal global economic landscape of tomorrow.

If only they, and everybody else too, would listen to me!  If only I, too, didn't suffer Cassandra's curse of nobody believing what I see coming ;)  So, I will instead quote someone who has some street creds:
Being more realistic about the role that college degrees play would help families and politicians make better choices. It could also help us appreciate the actual merits of a traditional broad-based education, often called a liberal-arts education, rather than trying to reduce everything to an economic cost-benefit analysis. “To be clear, the idea is not that there will be a big financial payoff to a liberal arts degree,” Cappelli writes. “It is that there is no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degrees either, yet that is all those degrees promise. For liberal arts, the claim is different and seems more accurate, that it will enrich your life and provide lessons that extend beyond any individual job. There are centuries of experience providing support for that notion.” 
Oh well ... nobody cares about all these anyway.  It is a strange world in which I find myself!

If I were feeling optimistic, I would be tempted to end this with one of the best final sentences ever: "After all, tomorrow is another day."  But then, as I peer into the future in which I see a whole lot of automation, artificial intelligence, and big data on every one of us--all of which I often blog about as well--another closing sentence appeals even more: "He loved Big Brother." ;)

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