Much of my professional life was spent helping young people become properly educated so they could move into the world of work. During my 40 years of experience I have seen many changes.
In earlier times it was not unusual for a person to graduate from high school and go to work at the local factory or some other place of work and still be there when they reached retirement. My grandfather was a sawmill worker all of his life. An uncle went to work on the railroad and retired from there 40 years later. Another uncle had a part time job at a drug store in high school. He sold his drug store when he was 70. My father had a restaurant. That is the way it was. It isn’t that way anymore.
Back in 1964 Bob Dylan wrote a song entitled, “The times they are a-changing,” and he was right. In the world of our economy the only constant is change. A concerned teacher told me when I was a senior in high school that in the future most would have three and even four different professions. He was looking ahead and thinking about how technology was changing the world of work.
Before World War II more than 80% of workers made their living working on farms or in farm related jobs. That number was still at 69% in the 1950s. Today, fewer than 5% make their living on the farm. I was in the world of work for 30 years before computers were invented. Today, every office has computers and most homes have at least one. Some are so small you can carry them around in your pocket. Amazing!
We consider 5% unemployed workers is full employment for our economy. That means that 95% are employed (around 130 million workers). The 5% represents those laid off because of technology changes. To get them back in the workforce some re-education is necessary. It is for this reason that community and technical colleges were created in the last half of the 20th century. Those colleges are structured to feed workers into the local economy in jobs that are currently available. If technological changes affect the local job market in the future, and they will, workers can return to the local colleges for retraining.
Here in the 21st century when things are changing so fast how can one prepare for the future? It is a tough but very pertinent question. My answer is that our educational approaches must focus on flexibility. We must educate our children knowing that jobs available today most likely will not be available tomorrow. That means teaching for creativity, innovation and understanding the world around us and, most specifically, the world of work.
The teacher who predicted three and four different professions for workers back in the 50s was right on. That is especially true for me. I have been a teacher, coach, administrator, consultant, minister and writer over the past 50 years. Today, I am still teaching, though it is at Sunday school. And, I am still writing a syndicated column and have penned several books. I wouldn’t change a thing about my work history, despite my daily pursuits changing about every 10 years since high school days. Expect much of the same and more in the future. Indeed, the most consistent thing about our economy is the fact that it is changing, and more rapidly every year.
You can reach Dr. Mark L. Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.