Saturday, September 2, 2017

Learning a living in the pivot economy

Two articles of note in today's news should be required reading for anyone interested in education and its relationship to the economy. The first is an overview of experiential and work-integrated learning (WIL) programs, New co-op programs blur the lines between academics and industry, exposes a rift between what industry expects from graduates and what educational institutions provide. It is good to see the Siemens model active here in Canada portrayed as an exemplar. But the fears raised by academics about industry encroachment on curricula are not very credible and sound rather like libertarianism gone awry. Education has always been both transactional and transformational, and we do a disservice if we do not adequately prepare students for meaningful careers and participation in society. The rise of WIL programs offer the best of both worlds, and do in fact encourage industry to invest in skills training and education, something Canadian industry does not do to the rate of international comparators.

The second is a wake up call about The missing middle and what happens when low to mid-skilled people don't just lose jobs but these jobs disappear altogether. Reskilling is important, and the article outlines what is essentially a significant public issue as it pertains to education and what I'll call the pivot economy. We are in the midst of an economic pivot as we move into more automation, coupled with the results of years of off-shoring manufacturing and global integration of supply chains. It can be argued of course that economies pivot all the time. The difference now is the rate of change. But also integral here is an economic push in Canada to become more than simple drawers of water and hewers of wood, to move past simple resource extraction and to become "price setters, not price takers."

"The future of work consists of learning a living" said Marshall McLuhan. As we collectively grapple with the pivot economy we have the opportunity to build meaningful bridges from the present to the future via education. My sense is that it has always been thus; in North America we simply stopped thinking of continual skills and competency development over the lifespan sometime around the middle of the last century. That's a topic for further discussion.