Of Robots, Jobs, and #CareerTechEd

Are robots coming for our jobs? Recently, more and more media reports are highlighting how jobs from retail cashiers to radiologists may soon be taken over by robots, while noting that college degrees and careers in music, watch repair, or midwifery may be the best bets for ensuring that today’s young people have dependable careers in the future.

For decades now, we have lamented the shift from the industrial age to the digital one. Experts talked about the loss of factory jobs and the need for postsecondary educations for all who look to contribute to the economy. Some forecasts of the future have been incredibly accurate; others have painted a future that only seems to exist in science fiction movies.

That digital age is now. As media rightly note, we are entering a time that will be built on the foundations of robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and other advances that until recently were only considered part of that same science fiction. The shift does mean that robots will be part of the workplace far more than ever before. But instead of planning for a technological overtaking, our educational institutions have a real opportunity to ensure that today’s learners are the ones creating, building, programming, and overseeing those robots.

The impending age makes clear that we need to prepare the students of both today and tomorrow in ways that were different from the past as we ready learners for the possibilities and the jobs of the future. For some, it may mean the traditional college degrees so many call for, while others may find the same teachings in a range of postsecondary offerings, including career certificates. Regardless, it will mean that all learners will need problem-solving skills and the ability to adapt to changing technology, whether they are computer engineers or nurse midwives. 

We have witnessed Congress reauthorize the Perkins Act and the White House establish a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. A wide range of media outlets have explored the growing importance of career and technical education and how future careers can be obtained through apprenticeships, internships, and work study. In doing so, we acknowledge that while the economy and job possibilities continue to evolve, how we provide learners with the skills and knowledge they may need for those careers also must change and evolve for the times.

We now see communities and school districts truly focusing on the impact of accelerating technological advancements on learning. CTE that once focused on engine repair and other industrial pursuits are now focused in the robotics, 3D printing, and biotech that some are starting to fear. STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) education has become a non-negotiable for all students, not just those seeking careers in medicine or the hard sciences and not just for those seeking university degrees. 

Yes, these changes are driven by policy changes and economic forecasting. But they are also driven by families and the learners themselves. As more and more high school students explore the full range of career opportunities available to them – jobs that their parents may not even be able to conceive – they are quickly seeing what skills, knowledge, and abilities they will need to pursue those careers. Yes, those learners are looking to two- and four-year colleges to help them in attaining that knowledge, but they are also looking to secondary schools to put them on the right paths.

We achieve this by building the right systems for tomorrow’s industry leaders to thrive today. That means high school classes that equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge. It means postsecondary opportunities relevant and interesting to the leaders of tomorrow. And it means clubs, student organizations, honor societies, and internship programs that support this K-12 and postsecondary development.

We need not fear the robots, nor should we. At this time of economic transition, we need to work together – industry and educational institutions, educators and learners – to embrace the future and ensure that our educational offerings match both future career pipelines and current student interests and passions. And where there is a disconnect, we must work together to better connect those interests with the opportunities of tomorrow.

(The above essay also appears on LinkedIn Pulse.)

Are School Issues Just a Matter of Boredom?

Earlier this month, EdSec Betsy DeVos suggested school choice was needed because high school students get bored otherwise.

Yes, traditional public schools have some issues. And yes, high school kids are often bored with their assigned curriculum. But instead of simply changing the operational structure of the school building, shouldn’t we instead be looking at approaches like personalized learning?

I explore the topic on the most recent edition of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Be sure to give it a listen. Tens of thousands of others do each week!

A New Face for #CareerTechEd

Last month, President Donald Trump signed into law the Congressional reauthorization of the Perkins Act. This is good news for the future of career and technical education IF we are willing to see CTE and career prep as more than the 1950s-style vo-tech often cited by POTUS.

We go deeper on the topic on the most recent episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. We explain here.

Recognizing the Value of Internships

After my first year of college, I was fortunate enough to score an internship on Capitol Hill, working in the office of a respected veteran senator. For a month, I did everything and anything that was asked of me, as I tried to soak up as much of the experience as possible. For me, each committee hearing, legislative memo, and clip packet were like gifts on Christmas morning.

As part of my internship, I also got the privilege of commuting by train – more than an hour each way – from my parents’ home in West Virginia. It was the only way to make my first internship work financially. Additionally, I spent the rest of the summer, as well as every weekend during my internship month, working at a local restaurant. I was gaining valuable work experience walking the halls of Congress. And I was gaining the dollars necessary to live during college by ringing up buffet dinners for Mountain State families and breaking down the soft-serve ice cream machine nightly.

The following summer, I was fortunate enough to earn an internship in the press office of U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd. That was the summer I retired from my career at Ponderosa Steak House. Senator Byrd was a former Senate Majority Leader and was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. A man who became one of the most powerful leaders in DC, Senator Byrd also believed in an honest day’s pay for a hard day’s work. I interned for Byrd for two summers, getting paid a salary both years.

I continued to take the train in from West Virginia both of those summers, to save money and avoid the cost of DC summer rent, but I was able to spend those summers focused on my future. The train rides became opportunities to read about government and policy. The weekends became a chance to explore possible career paths beyond law school. Those paid internships with Senator Byrd transformed me into the communications and policy professional I would become.

All because of a paycheck attached to an invaluable internship.

Last month, the U.S. Senate appropriated $5 million to provide the resources to pay Senate interns, giving each Senate office about $50,000 a year to compensate the lifeblood of Capitol Hill. The funds will hardly ensure that interns earn anything to close to what those interning on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley may earn, what with some Hill offices employing more than a dozen interns in the summer months alone to share that pot. But it is a start.

It is a start in showing appreciation for those that perform the tasks of Capitol Hill interns, perhaps allowing interns the chance to take one fewer shift as a waiter or bartender in DC and being able to use the time to explore the city they are calling home for the summer. It is a step at wiping away the general DC belief that interns are simply free labor, motivated by their need to find paying jobs after college.

More importantly, though, the move to compensate U.S. Senate interns begins to bring some equity to a system that is far from equitable. For decades, unpaid DC internships largely ensured an intern pool of the wealthy and the well connected. In an institution that is already far whiter than the populace, it ensured that its interns were equally as white. In short, it created a labor pool that looked vastly different from the people it was governing.

If the $50 million paid internship pool allows one more low-income student to pursue a Capitol Hill internship, then it is a worthy investment. If it inspired a new generation to see the value of government service, even if it pays far less than the private sector (both at internships and full-time jobs), then it is a worthy investment. If it means more 19- and 20-year olds don’t have to work two or three jobs during the summer in order to pursue its passions, then it is a worthy investment. And if it inspires other industries – including the media and entertainment sectors – to open their checkbooks and eliminate their own “free summer labor pool,” then it is definitely worth it.

No college student is ever going to get rich working an internship on Capitol Hill. Interns will still spend much of their salaries renting a summer dorm room from a local university or packing into short-term lease apartments. They will continue to live on an all-you-can-eat pizza, salad, and banana pudding buffet (as I did as an intern), supplemented by Capitol Hill reception hors d’oeuvres. And a small monthly check from the U.S. Senate ensures that those who seek such an experience may actually be able to take advantage of it.

(This piece originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)

Let’s Not Bully #BeBest

Earlier this month, First Lady Melania Trump fulfilled a promise she made during the 2016 presidential campaign. In announcing Be Best, FLOTUS committed her bully pulpit to looking issues like cyber bullying and social-emotional learning for children.

On cue, the education community largely mocked her. But maybe, just maybe, we should give Melania a chance … particularly as we we have been looking for federal leadership on issues like SEL for quite some time.

So we explore this topic on the latest edition of TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen. Maybe we can be best by giving #BeBest a chance.

NAEP Response: More than Words?

Now that the dust has finally settled on the most-recent dump of NAEP scores, we must admit that the results just aren’t good. For a decade now, student performance on our national reading and math tests have remained stagnant. And that stagnation is only because a few select demographics managed gains that kept everyone afloat.

At a time when we all seem to agree that today’s students need stronger and greater skills to succeed in tomorrow’s world, how can we be satisfied with stagnation? And how we can respond simply with words, with the rhetoric of how our students can and should do better?

Over on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore the topic, reflecting on both how we cannot be satisfied with our students treading water and how we need to take real action to improve teaching and learning in the classroom. Give it a listen. Then show your work.