Opinion
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

How Do I Prepare My Students for Jobs That May Soon Disappear?

By A.M. Hangan — September 12, 2017 2 min read

I’ve been a teacher for 20 years. On day one of each new school year, the first conversation I hold with my students is about education. I start by saying, “Education is important; it will prepare you for a career.” I choose this topic to instill hope in my students that all their work in school will pay off.

American schools have cycled millions of students through classrooms into the workforce. But more important, schools are a doorway for opening up young minds to a world of possibilities.

As companies increasingly introduce digital machines into production, workers must hone new skills for the tools of industry. While the speed of school systems to harmonize instruction to a changing economy is often glacial, teachers and education leaders have found creative ways to adjust. New programs that support science and math, computer science, and robot design are sprouting up in innovative high schools and classrooms across the country.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Although a drumbeat of criticism would have you believe that high schools are “failing” to prepare students for the workplace, graduates are finding jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for high school graduates declined from 11 percent in 2009 to 7.7 percent in January of this year. While this was still above the national average of 4.8 percent in January, the downward trend gives a reason to be optimistic about the ability of high schools to prepare students to get a job in the 21st-century economy.

Over the last year or so, there’s been an acceleration in the stream of headlines in the business press tracking the growing trend of automation and robots doing tasks once carried out by people. The recent purchase of Whole Foods by the mega-online retailer Amazon, renowned for its automated warehousesand workerless grocery stores, has awakened fresh concerns over the elimination of entire job categories and a growing army of unemployable people.

Whether these concerns prove well-founded remains to be seen, but the acquisition underscores the powerful headwinds workers will face in the near future. According to a 2015 study from Citi Research and the Oxford Martin School in 2015, up to 47 percent of current U.S. employment is at risk of being automated.

With that fact in mind, I struggled with what I should tell my students as this new school year began. While I am professionally bound to encourage students to strive for a career, I am ethically obligated to explain the challenges they may face in being gainfully employed.

On the first day of class, I had my annual conversation with my students about the importance of an education to reach their career goals. However, I am already anticipating what I will say if one of my new students asks me, “Mr. Hangan, what’s a good career I should pursue?” As Amazon sets a new standard for the workplace by automating more work in the future, I will just have to say, “Hmmm, that’s a great question.”

Follow the Education Week Commentary section on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up to get the latest Education Week Commentaries in your email inbox.
A version of this article appeared in the September 13, 2017 edition of Education Week as How Do We Prepare Students For Jobs That May Soon Disappear?

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Whitepaper
Prepare Students with Work-Based Learning
Download this toolkit to learn how your school or district can build community partnerships to provide students with access to real-world...
Content provided by Naviance
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion An Economist Explains How to Make College Pay
Rick Hess speaks with Beth Akers about practical advice regarding how to choose a college, what to study, and how to pay for it.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says College Enrollment Dip Hits Students of Color the Hardest
The pandemic led to a precipitous decline in enrollment for two-year schools, while four-year colleges and universities held steady.
3 min read
Conceptual image of blocks moving forward, and one moving backward.
Marchmeena29/iStock/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Letter to the Editor How We Can Improve College-Completion Rates
Early- and middle-college high schools have the potential to improve college completion rates, says this letter to the editor.
1 min read