With all of this political speak about jobs, job creators, employment, workforce and labor participation, Ithink it’s worth writing about the impact of technological change on the economy.
With 7.9% of the United States Labor force unemployed and estimates predicting the natural level of unemployment in the United States may have risen as much as 1.7% over the last three years (from 5.0% to 6.7% according to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s estimates), this is definitely going to remain a relevant topic as citizens look to the government, the private sector, and the country’s institutions of higher learning for answers as to how they can get themselves involved in the churns of the economy.
As an expected graduate of the University of Michigan this December, I’m actively on the prowl for new opportunities this coming year, five years, decade, and more. My collection of @umich.edu email addresses (passed down to me over the past few years from a few student organizations) deliver to me emails intended for now medical students, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and engineers. A nearly-weekly arrival in my inbox reads: “How can you use SMS services to improve your medical office’s workflow?” Another common spam-offender invites me to try their software package in managing my law firm.
And with that comes the realization that the natural rate of unemployment the Reserve Bank of San Francisco reported on is not only indicative of the nature of the economy (i.e. the job market) alone; it also measures the ability of people seeking the extant jobs to acquire the skills necessary to fill them, not to mention society’s ability to provide said people the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to fill them.
Each day, it’s becoming more difficult to argue how easy it is to find your way in the 21st-century “innovation economy” without developing a technical “sense” and a set of very specific technical skills. Are we prepared for the tech jobs that will be available in the 21st century? Can we be?
As a believer that all people work as hard as they can to achieve what they desire (and an optimist when it comes to the human spirit), my focus tends to be on the organization of society in a way that makes those opportunities for education and employment available.
We’ve heard the critic’s argument; the four-year model of education is often inaccessible, and that the “accessibility gap” is only widening.
Others, even some of my peers still in college, contest that they’ve committed to a career path of their choosing, regardless of the economic outlook and expected trajectory of that career path’s ability to maintain the employment of those already in the field. My aerospace engineer friends face a uniquely challenging situation as they seek employment in an industry qualitatively changing as NASA reorganizes about its mission and Space-X, among others, seek commercialized spaceflight. However, I think these arguments rely on an assumption that we are who we are trained to be and that the traditional 4-year university, or even community college, is the only way to train to adapt to an increasingly-technological economy.
My response to the two points above and overall message I hope to deliver with this post is as follows:
I didn’t come into college understanding a lot of math or science; I was a writer, a student politician, and a debater in high school. I didn’t really have any idea what it meant to be an “engineer” in the first place or what an engineer really does. However, after three and a half sleepless years, I couldn’t be more thankful that I [incidentally] challenged myself and that there exist institutions of higher learning which pursue a higher mission than budget balancing and student throughput.
I’m referring to the universities that make their “courseware” available for free and to the public. One of my critical resources in catching up to the pace of college mathematics was MIT’s Open Courseware. Stanford beat Michigan to teaching me cryptography at Coursera. And so this article reaches its “challenge” and “message”:
I challenge the readers of this article to go onto either of the two resources above (MIT has many more courses available on a much more flexible schedule), select a topic at the introductory level in a field in which you do not have a lot of experience but you believe that your future career path may demand from you, and follow through with what is expected from you on the platform that you pursue in order to complete the course and expand the frontier of your expertise in a technical or foreign field.
I understand that this challenge doesn’t fit everyone’s schedule; however, if you do pursue it, you may just wind up blogging about the positive impact that it had on your life three and a half years after watching your first video.
By: Ryan Roberts
(Photo courtesy of sxc.hu)