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Careers, Digitization and the Future of Work

The world has dramatically changed since 1995 and yet, we continue to operate in a pre-1995 way. What was 1995? That was the beginning of the internet. The idea of a “job” has been shifting for a few generations, yet we continue to have the same expectations from our students as we did a generation ago. There was a time when a student would graduate from high school or college, and then work in one industry and for one company until they retired. The shift to working for multiple companies and across various industries is relatively new. Digitalization will continue to dominate the world economy and our students will be working in “jobs” that do not exist, using technology that has yet to be invented.  Yet, we continue to ask our students the same career questions we have been asking them for generations. 

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” 

This is a question that reflects an economy and working world that no longer applies. This is especially true in our most vulnerable communities. Communities of people of color living in poverty are some of the hardest hit by digitalization. Many of the “jobs” found in these communities are manual labor or are roles with repetitive tasks. 

We need entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, policymakers, community activists, and change-makers. We need to bring influence and wealth in these communities. What our students do with their capacity and capability will be directly related to the advancement of social justice. We do not need “workers,” we need problem solvers.

The real question we should be asking our students isn’t, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Rather, we should be asking, “what problem do you want to solve?”

Lesson Plan

The Career Model

Need Summary of Career Model 

Outcomes:

Need outcomes

Preparing for a Digitized Economy

An explanation as to how the world or work is not only different than it was a generation ago, it continues to dramatically change. The danger of leaving a generation of students of color even more behind is at a critical level.

Outcomes:

  • Understanding of what digitalization is and what is included
  • Understanding of the potential market for our students of color
  • Understanding of how digitalization is tied to social justice

We Need Movement, Not “Jobs”

A reframing of what we should shoot for in our communities of need for students of color. We need to change the language of what actions we want our students to take. They don’t need “jobs.” They need skills and opportunities. 

Outcomes:

  • Understanding of why the “college and career ready” mantra isn’t enough
  • Understanding of the potential market our students have
  • Understanding of the skills needed to dramatically improve opportunities in our communities of need

Asking the Wrong Question

We have been asking students this question for a few generations. The question comes from the world where work and career were different. The question also limits the potential and opportunities our students of color have.

Outcomes:

  • Understanding of why the question is an “old world” question
  • Understanding of the limitations the question has for our students
  • Understanding of the implicit bias the question has for students in communities of poverty

Ask the Right Question

Instead of asking “what do you want to be when you grow up,” we should be asking our students what problem do they want to solve? Students can use this question to reflect on the problems and issues they see on a daily basis.

Outcomes:

  • Understanding of why this question makes more sense
  • Understanding of what we mean by the word “problem”
  • Understanding of how to help students think about problem solving

Identify the Problem

Problem solving is a natural human experience.  We are born to problem solve.  When asked what problem do you want to solve, some students know exactly what problem they want to focus on.  However, many of us do not know what problem we actually want to solve. It is important to help our students spend time thinking about this concept and yet, not get paralyzed by it. 

Outcomes:

  • Understanding of how to help a student define the problem they are passionate about
  • Understanding of self reflection exercise students can use to think about the problem they are interested in
  • Understanding of tools and resources available to help students think through the problem they want to solve

Strategy for Solution

The second question, how do you want to solve the problem” is as important as the first question, “what problem do you want to solve.” Oftentimes, when we see a “problem,” especially a societal problem, we only see a few potential solutions so we tend to focus on developing the skills for those solutions. The truth is there are a million ways to solve a problem and so the student needs to think about how they can take their gifts, talents, and passions to solve the problem. Cultural relevance is critical here.

Outcomes:

  • Understanding of why the second question is as important as the first question
  • Understanding of how to use a student’s gifts, talents, and passion to focus on problem solving
  • Understanding of tools and activities students can use to identify the way they might want to solve the problem

Focusing on Strengths

It is critical to understand attributes and strengths when students define how they want to solve the problem they are passionate about. Everyone is different when it comes to what makes them tick and what they are good at. Understanding these can go a long way to focus on the most relevant skills students need to build

Outcomes:

  • Understanding of why attributes and strength understanding is critical
  • Understanding of how students can define their strengths to focus on how they want to solve their problem
  • Understanding of tools and resources available to help students define their attributes and strengths

The Needed Knowledge

The first question helps a student identify their purpose – what problem do they want to solve. The second question helps them focus on autonomy – how they want to solve the problem. The third question helps students identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to learn and master to solve the problem they are interested in – what do you need to know to solve the problem?

Outcomes:

  • Understanding of how the three questions interact with each other and are the basis for all human motivation
  • Understanding of the importance of the key components to problem solving – the knowledge, skills, and abilities one needs to solve a problem
  • Understanding of tools and resources available to help students identify what they need to know to solve the problem they are passionate about in the way they want to solve it

Building Digital Leaders

We have failed this generation when it comes to digital literacy. We have told this generation that they are “digital natives” and because they were born in the age of technology, they naturally know how to use technology and are naturally digital literate.  There are two things wrong with this. First, because they assume they are supposed to know everything already, they are afraid to ask questions or seek help when faced with digital questions. Because of what we said to them, they feel “dumb” asking basic questions that would help them build the digital skills they need.  Second, it’s just wrong. Study after study shows us that they do not know how to use these skills. Even the idea of just building digital skills isn’t enough. We need to build digital leaders 

Outcomes:

  • Understanding of how we misled this generation when it comes to digital literacy
  • Understanding of the importance of digital literacy and skills and how it relates to social justice
  • Understanding of tools and resources educators can use to help build the skills students need to be digital leaders


Jaime Casap is the former Education Evangelist at Google where he evangelized the power and potential of technology and the web as enabling and supporting tools in pursuit of promoting inquiry-driven learning models. Jaime collaborates with school systems, educational organizations, and leaders focused on building innovation and iteration into our education policies and practices.

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