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How to Prepare Your Students for Careers That Don’t Exist Yet

  • Larry Bernstein
  • |
  • November 21, 2019

As technology evolves, so does the nature of jobs. Discover ways to ready your students for careers that don’t exist yet.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Just about everyone hears the question at least once as a child. And over time, the answer to this question is accompanied with more confidence and reason. 

 However, that question is far more difficult to answer today. It seems as if the world is changing at such a rapid pace due to technology, demand, and other factors—so much so that the careers today’s students may pursue might not even exist yet.

 A Challenge for Teachers

This great unknown presents a challenge for teachers. How can they prepare their students to be ready for the future job market without knowing what will be out there? A small market research study conducted by Xello found that teachers are concerned about how to prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist. 

The challenge is not just determining what to teach. Teachers are being asked to do something they themselves did not do when they were students. 

In an interview by EdSurge, Karen Cantor, CEO of Digital Promise, says “Teachers have 15,000 hours of muscle memory about what it feels like to be a student, to be in a classroom.” She adds, “[the] transitions in what it means to be a teacher cause them to do something that may not be comfortable, that may not be something they have experience with.”

Whereas teachers in the past—particularly those early in their career—could draw greatly from their own time in the classroom; today, their experience is less valuable. Experienced teachers also need to make changes from what worked in the past. This can be taxing.

Marie Kueny has worked at elementary, middle, and high school levels for 20 years, including 10 years as a licensed school counselor. Today Kueny is the founder and CEO of Compassionate Educators, a company she started after noting that many teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Teachers are stressed and don’t necessarily recognize the difference they make. Kueny says, “The goal is to help teachers become life changing teachers without self-sacrifice.” 

Preparing for the Future: Soft Skills Will Be Necessary!

The skills of the future are coming into focus. A buzzword in education and other circles is soft skills, which many believe are essential for the careers of the future.

What exactly are soft skills? Indeed defines soft skills as “… any skill that can be classified as a personality trait or habit. Interpersonal skills and communication skills are more specific categories of soft skills that many employers look for in job candidates.” Other examples of soft skills include  adaptability/flexibility, problem solving, and creativity.

Andrew Ellis, an eight-year veteran middle school teacher in Wilmington, Delaware, believes the education system needs to adapt if it hopes to properly prepare students for the future. 

“It’s no longer about students regurgitating information,” says Ellis, “students need to be taught critical thinking skills and free thought needs to be supported.”

One soft skill everyone seems to agree students need moving forward is adaptability/flexibility. With the pace of change showing no signs of slowing down, this seems like a no brainer.

How can teachers help students become more adaptable? Ellis believes adaptability starts with communication. 

“Presenting students with open-ended thoughts gives them the opportunity to formulate and express their opinions, to practice critical thinking, and to be flexible and adaptable in their thinking,” says Ellis. So as students will need to find common ground in their future workplaces, they can begin by learning that skill in the classroom.

Likewise, Kueny sees effective communication as a key skill that students will need to succeed in the future workforce. “Technology has shrunk the world, and today’s students will need to be able to work collaboratively with people all over the world,” says Kueny. 

She advises a greater emphasis on foreign languages and believes students who are bilingual or even multilingual will have a leg up on future jobs.

In a time when change is constant, it’s vital that students develop a growth mindset. Carol Dweck coined the term and defined it as, “based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” 

In times of change, many feel uncertain or even defensive, which doesn’t help any situation. “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset.” 

Teachers, too, should focus on instilling the soft skills of curiosity, resilience, and a growth mindset. Kueny suggests teachers, particularly in elementary school, ask students what problems they want to solve when they grow up, and what they most enjoy doing. This helps them build curiosity about the world and prepare for their future in it. 

An article in Teacher magazine offers some suggestions about how to teach students to be resilient. Suggestions, geared primarily toward younger children, include reading stories about people who have overcome challenges and then listing books about people who have overcome challenges. Also, teachers can discuss how challenges can be positive as they help people grow and prepare for the future—and to remind students that “it’s okay to ask for support.”

How Can EdTech Play a Role?

While effective and inspiring teachers are needed to prepare students for future jobs, there’s also a role for technology. Ellis believes the traditional methods, such as textbooks and worksheets, hamstring teachers. 

He adds, “There are many helpful edtech systems out there, but it’s hard to get to them if schools insist on the old formats.”

A future readiness online program like Xello teaches students critical real-world skills and the soft skills needed for future jobs. The program features integrated lessons that help students build essential soft skills such as communication, problem solving, and teamwork.

AI, automation, etc. are impacting the world in countless ways and will continue to do so. As students move into this new world, they will need to find careers that support the new economy. While the exact technical skills needed are not written in stone, soft skills will prove helpful for all future jobs. Educators can feel confident that they are able to prepare their students to move forward and utilize online programs to support them in an ever-changing environment.

Larry Bernstein
ABOUT LARRY

Larry is an experienced educator having taught at both the K-12 and post high school level. Outside of the classroom, Larry is a freelance writer whose writing focuses on edtech and general education topics.