One School’s Journey – Adapting to the Speed of Business

Students around table with technology and social media icons.jpeg

By Dick Thomas

Have you been keeping track of our One School’s Journey into the 9 Billion Schools model? The series covers the results of a two-day futurecasting session I led with some of my SHP Leading Design colleagues and guest speakers from business, economics, education and more. So far, we’ve covered students’ perspective on personalized learning with two students from Winton Woods Academy of Global Studies, the changing role of technology with Brian David Johnson and economic trends with Christopher Nicak. Today, I’m diving into the presentation given by Amy Hanson, a former Macy’s executive, on the changes happening in the business world and how education should adjust to meet the shifting needs of the workplace.

Unprecedented consumer control

One of the biggest forces of change in the business world is the shift of control to consumers. Thanks to technological advances, consumers are exerting unprecedented levels of influence over their experiences, putting pressure on traditional business models and creating opportunities for industry disruptors like Uber and Airbnb. And with the power of Amazon, Google and social media at their fingertips, consumers are more willing than ever to shop around. As a result, it’s not enough to simply provide good products; businesses are hustling to activate more personalized customer interactions—especially online—create positive customer experiences, and emphasize mobile, online transactions. 

Education will need to follow a similar path as consumers come to expect the same personalized, accessible, always-on service from education that they receive in other parts of their lives. It’s one of the many reasons 9 Billion Schools champions a personalized learning model—not only is it better for students as individual learners, but it encourages traditional education to apply trends from other industries that show no signs of slowing down.

This is certainly true of our friends at Mercy McAuley, as the transition team weighs how best to deliver a personalized, blended learning model and curriculum tailored to students’ individual needs and interests. The school has already embraced technology in the classroom, but modalities like project-based learning, independent work-study, co-ops and internships, a digital-only curriculum and more are forcing this school to rethink how it will deliver against student demands in the future.  

Technology as an enabler

It’s no secret that technology is ubiquitous to our daily lives. How is it possible that technology will become even more ingrained than it already is—especially for device-in-hand Gen Z?

Amy argues that technology is not a what, but a how. Technology is an enabler—it gives us new abilities, helps us work in specific ways or deviate from the way things have previously been done. Those institutions which survive well into the future, whether they are businesses, schools, or other organizations, will be the ones that not only adapt, but turn tech into a strategic advantage.

If you’ve kept up-to-date on this series thus far, you know that digital disruption has emerged as a theme in our Mercy McAuley futurecasting session. Two other presenters—Brian David Johnson and Christopher Nicak—spoke extensively on the impact of technology on the workforce, as well. We believe it’s one of the key driving forces for change across all parts of life—there’s not a single industry that will be unaffected by technological advances in the next 10 years.

Demand for new skills

The traditional employment pipeline is narrowing—jobs for recent graduates are disappearing and being replaced by jobs requiring completely different skill sets. And job replacement isn’t one-to-one. Only about one in 10 disappearing jobs will be replaced by a new one.

Emerging jobs require different skills than past jobs, and many businesses are finding that students are not prepared for emerging careers. There is a significant gap between what businesses need and what students learn in academic settings. When the necessary skills available in the labor market don’t match what companies need to fill open positions, both industry and employees miss out. It’s a lose-lose. 

Instead, Amy believes that based on current trends, future jobs will be less rule-based, and to a certain degree, less skill based. Employees of the future won’t need to know how to engineer a widget, they’ll need to know how to apply their best judgment, critical thinking and problem-solving skills to making the automated widget-making process more productive, more profitable.  The shift away from hard skills to soft skills makes many employers and employees uncomfortable, but it will be necessary.

This could become an area where Mercy McAuley—indeed, any high school—can differentiate itself and its pedagogical approach. The transition team considered such approaches as mentoring and building pathway programs with local businesses to keep their finger on the pulse of business evolution… all with the goal of teaching their young women the skills they’ll need to succeed in the workforce, five, 10 and 15 years from now. 

Need to adapt quickly

Companies that don’t invest in the future of their industry can quickly be left in the dust. The same is true for education—if we are unwilling to adjust to meet the needs of the business community, our academic institutions and our students will be left behind.

In her presentation, Amy points out that the size of a company used carried a lot of weight in determining its success. Now, it’s not about how big an organization is, but how nimble it is. And that applies across industries, including education. The institutions that survive and thrive well into the future will be the ones that can adapt to the changes impacting our society. Amy believes education systems need to flex and adapt with businesses and teach students how to do the same.

To adapt quickly, both businesses and educational institutions must be comfortable with risk and failure, and be willing to course-correct in the moments when failure rears its ugly head. Of course, there should be checks and balances to prevent academic institutions from taking risks that are so significant that they hurt their students in the process, but a risk-free environment will never allow for quick adaptation.

While educational institutions may not feel the acute pressure of these changes as quickly as businesses, the change is certainly coming. It’s already begun at Mercy McAuley: changing customer demands are reflected in the form of lower student enrollment, which led to the closure of Mother of Mercy High School and McAuley High School as separate institutions. The futurecasting exercise at Mercy McAuley allows the combined high school’s transition team to take a step back and consider how they can and should adapt to their customers.

Have you observed how fluctuations in business have trickled down to what your students, parents, teachers or communities demand of your school? Tell us in the comments or continue the discussion on our Facebook page

Next in our One School’s Journey Series, I’ll discuss educational trends now and in the foreseeable future. I hope you’ll stay tuned.