What is the Future of Work? The National League of Cities has an Idea.

The continued success of local communities depends on a modern reimagining of the nature of work, according to the new “Future of Work” series published by the National League of Cities.

We learn, we put that knowledge to work, we flourish. It’s a winning formula to which everyone deserves access.

For this reality to remain true — especially as we move deeper into a major technological shift of automation — means developing and embracing new models of work and new methods of learning and education that allow workers at every stage of life to have access to the knowledge that will help them stay ahead of the wave of change.

The National League of Cities, uniquely attuned to the needs of local communities, has great ideas for what this means. Preparing for the future will take the ideas of local communities, school districts, state and federal government, industry groups, small businesses, major employers, colleges and universities to all come together to enact change for the successful future. For their part, three major themes from the #FutureOfWork series push the conversation in the right direction.

After-hours school programs help students, build stronger communities, and improve the talent pipeline

Local community members collaborate to prepare for the future of work.

Learning can’t and shouldn’t be confined neatly into a set number of hours and periods—and it certainly doesn’t end at night or in the summer. The National League of Cities compiled research that outlines the return on investment in after-school and summer programs for K12 students. Interestingly, the benefits of such programs reach far beyond individual growth for students and include:

  • Local economic growth from a ‘homegrown’ workforce with skills directly related to area employment needs.
  • Enhanced college and career readiness, especially among low-income and disadvantaged youth.
  • Reduced crime rates.
  • Lower rates of K12 absenteeism.

These benefits demonstrate that improved education and greater access to learning can be a rallying point for a community. Something that when we all get behind we all grow, together.

“Soft” skills continue to define our key successes

Nothing can out-human a human; but, by the same token, humans can’t out-robot a robot. It sounds obvious (and maybe a little silly) but it can so often be forgotten that it bears mentioning. Automation will continue to grow because it makes sense to use machines to complete certain tasks when using those machines saves money.

Yet there are many skills that machines can’t replicate cost effectively: ethical judgements, social skills, complex-problem solving, speaking, critical thinking, and listening and time management, among many others. These are soft skills that aren’t necessarily specialized; a physician’s bedside manner relies on the same foundational, emotional intelligence as a retail manager’s ability to relate to customers and employees. And anyone who has ever tried to navigate through complicated, machine-driven voice prompts when calling customer service can attest to how poorly machines fare at listening, understanding and communicating.

Focusing on these human skills in training and education programs for all disciplines, vocations and career paths will provide a base skillset that allows for success in a specific field while still offering the flexibility to transfer those skills should a future shift be necessary.

The response to automation must be collaboration

The rise of automation is one of the strongest catalysts to change our approach to learning and work, but it is a much more exciting opportunity than it is a something to cause anxiety. Automation will create more jobs than it will replace, but those new jobs will be undoubtedly be different. The millions of jobs created by automation will require new skills and, in some cases, skills with a shorter shelf life than our current education system is built to handle. For both those in the workplace currently, and the young adults and children entering the future workplace, always-on learning will be the key to unlocking the opportunities of automation.

This is a rallying cry—an opportunity—for us to collaborate, as recognized by the NLC. We can’t be silos separated by impermeable barriers. Engineers have to work with artists, physicians with technologists and teachers with CEOs. And, importantly, schools and employers must become more integrated so that graduates of every degree and discipline are best prepared for success. Sharing knowledge, perspectives and ideas will allow us to make the most of the potential of the future

And real collaboration is more than just a talking point: it must start now. It begins with us! We’re looking to collaborate with individuals and organizations to build a world where each and every person has the tools they need to use learning as a pathway to flourish. If you have ideas or resources that you think can help enhance that mission, let us know! Email me at dick@9billionschools.org to start the conversation

Dick ThomasComment