When it comes to disruption in education and the future of work – a topic growing increasingly important for all learning business leaders to be knowledgeable about – few people know more than Michelle Weise.
As senior vice president, workforce strategies of Strada Education Network and chief innovation officer of the Strada Institute for the Future of Work, Michelle is a thought leader and expert in innovation and the connections between higher education and the workforce. And her book, Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution, co-authored with Clayton Christensen, describes the disruptive potential of online competency-based education aligned to workforce needs.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Jeff talks with Michelle about the future of work and the future of learning. They discuss findings and implications from the recently released Strada report, Robot-Ready: Human+ Skills for the Future of Work as well as the challenges and opportunities we are all facing as we adapt to this rapidly changing learning landscape.
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[03:23] – A preview of what will be covered in this episode where Jeff interviews Michelle Weise, Senior Vice President for Workforce Strategies at Strada Education Network and Chief Innovation Officer for the Strada Institute for the Future of Work.
Note we’ve talked about the future of work before—see our episode, The Future Is Learning with Heather McGowan.
[05:35] – Introduction to Michelle and some additional information about her work at the Strada Education Network and Strada Institute. Michelle explains that the Strada Institute for the Future of Work is the research and development lab for the Strada Education Network, which is a public, non-profit charity that invests in higher education and education to employment pathways. She talks about how they do this in a variety of ways with a goal of getting smarter about what all the forecasts might mean about the future of work. All of the reports and research they generate are meant to inform and guide the different kinds of solutions they have within Strada to deploy.
[08:01] – Strada recently released the report, Robot-Ready: Human+ Skills for the Future of Work. Can you highlight some of the most important findings from this? Michelle shares a common misconception is that the robots are coming and coming for our jobs. The truth is, the robots are already here and we actually live with them on a day-to-day basis. She says it is true there will be more and more automation becoming a part of our everyday lives. So what does that then mean for our work, our identities, how we think about work, and the way in which the nature of work is changing? This report is trying to understand what sorts of skills we need in order to thrive in that robo-human future. What they’ve come up with is there’s no longer this distinction between hard and soft skills and we have to approach everything with this idea that it will be human + technical skills. Human skills are the things that are going to help us be more resilient and resistant to automation—the things that are uniquely human about us where we can anticipate that computers won’t be able to compete with us (i.e. emotional intelligence, critical thinking, values, ethical judgment). And because we’ll be faced with more technology over our working lives, Michelle says we’re going to have to make sure we remain relevant in the workforce, coordinate with robots in the future, and have the right kind of technical skills that make us marketable and relevant in that future of work.
[10:45] – What does that mean, practically speaking, for the institutions, the system that’s serving learners? I’m thinking primarily of adult learners—those that are just entering the workforce as well as those that have been out there for a while. What needs to change in how these people are being served? Michelle explains that if you actually look at the perspective of adult learners, it can either go both ways—there may be people who are in jobs with technical skills finding some of them are becoming obsolete. In this case, they may need to upskill in a broader way where they’re developing more human skills so they can move up the management chain. Whereas for others who started out with more of a liberal arts background or generalist, they might be seeing the need to advance their careers by upskilling and finding some sort of targeted solution around learning how to do the specific kinds of skills that are critical to the domain they’re in. Or if they’re trying to transition from one pathway to another, they will need to figure out how to transfer some of their broad skills into a different domain. They’ll also need to learn how to access some of those related technical skillsets so they can be more understandable to a future employer and useful on Day 1 of their new job.
[12:48] – What’s your sense of how aware the average person is of this change that’s taking place? I get the sense that employers are certainly aware of it and there’s certainly a lot of discussion in higher education but what about the person coming out of college with that four-year degree? Do you feel that person is aware and is acting in a significantly different way than they might have in the past? Michelle talks about how the vast majority of learners don’t yet quite know how to translate their skills into the language of the workforce. What they’re seeing, especially from the younger/millennial learners, is that they are highly adverse to debt. But they’re not necessarily making that connection about how part of the disconnect between education and employment – or that first good job – is the fact that we’re not doing the greatest job of enabling learners to translate what they are learning in their educational programs into the same language of the workforce. So we have two very different taxonomies of skills and competencies that do not speak to one another. But one of the exciting things about where we are today Michelle says, is that we now have access to more real-time labor market information (and labor market analytic companies like Emsi) and you can actually now see those career trajectories including the pathway, what you’d expect to make, and the skills you need to be able to demonstrate and show mastery of. This is where a lot of institutions and employers need to be leveraging this kind of data to be able to bring these different taxonomies together and make sense/connect this intersection between post-secondary education and the workforce. Michelle emphasizes that if we don’t do this right now, it’s going to be a problem, especially as we think about lifelong learning in the future. This isn’t going to be a one and done experience of education on the front end and then launching into your career—we’re going to have to come back to learning over and over again throughout our working lives.
[16:40] – I know you’ve also talked about people being underemployed—so coming out of college, getting into the workforce perhaps in ways that aren’t taking advantage of the talent people have, which actually has longer term consequences. Can you speak to that? Michelle discusses how the first report they came out with talks about this notion of underemployment, which they define as being in a job that isn’t leveraging the bachelor’s degree that a graduate has. And there’s a tendency to think about newly minted graduates who might be working in retail jobs or selling coffee, for example, as a short-term problem only affecting a small minority of students. However, their data – which spanned over ten years and four million people – showed that first job actually mattered a whole lot. About 43% of the people started off underemployed in that first job and they were five times more likely to remain underemployed five years out and 75% of that group actually persistently stayed in that rut of underemployment ten years out. Michelle notes this has huge financial implications and that it affected women disproportionately to men. She also talks about how they looked at liberal arts grads in particular as part of their research and found they were uniquely mobile in moving out of underemployment by their third jobs—but they did so by stumbling in the dark, not with great navigation, and this is something she says we need to work on.
[20:09] – What about those much further along in their careers who aren’t aware of what’s going on or thinking about going back to school/pursuing a formal education at this point. How do we reach those people and get them to start making the steps that are going to make it possible to thrive in this new world of work? Michelle shares that they’ve been interviewing 350 Americans every single day over the past few years so they have a repository of consumer insights about education that totals 282,000 interviews so far. Out of that population, they have a lot of people that have some college and no degree. What’s interesting she says, is that if you actually dig down into the data, a large percentage (almost half) have no intention of coming back to education even though they know it could potentially help advance their careers. And even for those who completed school, there are many who think it was a one and done experience. So we’re all going to have to shift our mindsets into this idea that we’re going to have to return to learning over and over again because our work lives are going to change and with potential medical advancements, we may have longer lifespans. In order to adapt and shift with the changing times and needs of the economy, we’re going to have to have that different mindset. Michelle also notes how a Pew survey showed that close to 87% of Americans know they will have to reskill or upskill in some way but the challenge is they don’t know where to go.
[23:01] – My understanding is that Strada is very focused on higher education. Most of our listeners don’t work in higher education but in other types of organizations that serve adult lifelong learners – mostly trade and professional associations. How do you see the role of these types of organizations in addressing the challenges presented by the future of work? Michelle explains that at Strada, they aren’t just focused on traditional institutions of higher education and they are very agnostic to who the learning provider is. What they do care about is how these pathways connect learners more directly to completion, purpose, and good lives. They are highly interested in alternative learning providers and she says that pretty much all our existing systems today are going to have to play a role in this learning ecosystem in the future. But right now, we just don’t have that infrastructure set up to enable adult learners to move seamlessly in and out of learning and work. So whatever other learning providers out there can do to facilitate those more seamless transitions is key because a big pain point now is we don’t offer many on or off ramps in and out of learning and work. Employers are going to have to play a huge role in reimagining this role.
[25:21] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Michelle talks about a class she recently took that was an immersive boot camp experience that filled an existing knowledge gap and saved her from having to get an MBA. She highlights the fact that this wasn’t covered by her work’s tuition reimbursement program because the course wasn’t regionally accredited, something that a lot of these emergent programs are running into. So even though they’re hugely interesting and necessary they’re not fitting in under traditional tuition reimbursement programs which is something else that needs to be figured out in terms of policy for the future.
[27:50] – How to learn more about Strada:
[28:17] – Wrap-Up
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[30:15] – Sign off