The past two decades of innovation have changed America’s economic landscape in ways that are vast and irreversible. From the gig economy to the sharing economy, it seems like each day our businesses and lives are reshaped by modernization.
“We’re going through a digital revolution that’s as large scale as the industrial revolution we experienced more than 100 years ago,” says Philip Zelikow, visiting managing director of the Markle Foundation and co-author of “America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age.” “We’ve moved [past] the industrial age of the white-collar job in the office and the blue-collar job in a factory.”
For example? “We don’t really know how to classify people who are software developers,” explains Zelikow. “There are more lines of code in a Chevy Volt than there are in a 737, [but] people don’t think of the automotive industry as a center for software developers. This is what we mean about a ‘no collar world.’”
“The old system is limiting; it forces people to fit into boxes,” he continues. “The new system is all about customizing the box that fits you.”
We asked Zelikow exactly how students can do that.
Forget the standard bachelor's degree
According to Zelikow, we need to re-invent educational institutions and adjust job credentials to create more opportunities.
Some institutions are beginning to do this, like College for America at Southern New Hampshire University, which Zelikow says offers “more flexible educational programs and more flexible credentials," such as its associate’s degree for nonclinical healthcare. The program targets working adults with a “competency-based approach” that awards students a degree at their own pace after demonstrating mastery of goals tied directly to career demands.
Remember that college doesn’t make or break your path to success
Zelikow also says that young people should know that they don’t have to go to college to get a job. There are many career paths today that require a different kind of skill set that you don’t need attend college to learn.
“Take for instance entry-level IT jobs — there’s a whole well-paid career path in the IT world," he says. "The entry-level job might be, say, working at a help desk. You don’t have to get a BA degree to learn to work at an IT help desk. Then if you’ve done that for a while you might take some more stuff and become a systems administrator. So, why not offer people options like that?”
But it should never be too late to go back to school
Those who forgo a degree early on should still have the opportunity to get a college education later in their lives if and when it makes sense for them to do so, to gain the skills needed to advance their careers, Zelikow says.
“We have this notion that the only time you can get a good liberal arts education is between the ages of 18 and 22. That’s wrong. The ‘sorry you missed the highway entrance, so now you can never get on’ is a terrible attitude to take. We ought to make college available for anyone at any time.”
Above all, Zelikow says he doesn’t want people to feel like they cannot get the training that they need to live successful lives.
“I don’t want people to feel trapped by the old institutions because there are more ways to prepare for the life you want than ever before," he says. "A lot of the tools for people to help themselves are already out there. They’re just not as well developed as they should be and they’re not as recognized as they should be.”
“Demand that political, business and education leaders really grab the digital age with both hands and start talking about it.”