Written from CECU Plenary Session “Your Role in Creating Tomorrow’s Workforce”with Seth Mattison
Career education is a path to entrepreneurship and to “future proofing” yourself with the skills needed to succeed, says an expert on workforce trends.
“Take control,” said Seth Mattison at the 2018 Career Education Colleges and Universities Convention and Expo in June. “Be your own boss.”
Mattison said it doesn’t matter what trade students learn in career schools — nursing, carpentry, mechanics, etc. — as long as they also learn soft skills, such as the ability to listen, write and communicate clearly and articulately; to build trust and good relationships; to fact check and research; or to think critically and make logical decisions. Those soft skills will help students “future proof” themselves and ensure students can decipher falsehoods from truth and make informed decisions, he said.
In short, it’s about showing students a pathway to entrepreneurship, rather than just being about a job.
“We are now living in the era of fake news and alternative facts,” he said. Edelman’s Trust Barometer measures and tracks trust across institutions, and branded 2017 as the year of crisis of trust, as the general population’s trust in all four key institutions – business, government, non-government organizations and media – declined broadly. But the 2018 data is even more shocking.
“In the United States, we took a 23 percent dip in trust across all institutions,” he said, noting that institutions include college and universities. “That’s unprecedented; we’ve never moved more than a single digit in trust collectively as a nation year after year.”
In December 2016, Stanford conducted an experiment, surveying 8,000 junior high, high school and university-age students. “Of the 8,000, 83 percent of them couldn’t distinguish the difference between a real news story and a paid for, sponsored fake story ad,” Mattison said.
The percentage wasn’t much better for adults, as 75 percent of adults couldn’t distinguish the difference between the real news story and the paid for, fake one, he said.
“How do we navigate this new world where it’s trust, but verify?” Mattison questioned. People need to learn how to find information from multiple sources to make sound, facts-based decisions on whatever they are trying to navigate. “This will become one of the most critical life skills this next generation is going to require,” he said. “How do we interweave that through the entire curriculum that we develop?”
Secondly, Mattison said students need to build skills and develop a capacity for “deep work,” a term coined by author Cal Newport that means an ability to focus without distraction on cognitively demanding tasks. “Deep work” is important, he said, because it creates new value, improves skills and creates unique work that is hard to replicate in the marketplace. In other words, it helps employees fully immerse themselves in the trade and skills that they’re trying to develop.
Instead, people are being conditioned to do “shallow work,” Mattison said, giving email as an example. “Think about yourself. How long can you personally stay locked in on a task before the little voice in the back of your mind says, ‘Boy, I should check email.’” Most people switch over to email, and then jump back in to their other work.
“Shallow work” reduces our ability to stay locked in and do cognitively demanding tasks, which is where true learning takes place, he said.
Why is that important? Because it’s a skill set that we’re all losing, and particularly one our youth is losing, since they have been conditioned to operate only at “shallow work,” Mattison said.
The final component to this is the leadership landscape and how you can “future-proof” your institution.
“It requires a willingness to evolve and expand into the next version of who you, your leadership and your institution are,” he said. “How do I continue to evolve? We know from research that the No. 1 reason why institutions stop growing is because their leaders stopped growing. Continue to learn, grow, expand, ‘future proof.’”
Mattison said two forces would define the future: hierarchies and networks.
“We live in a society based on networks, networks of information, resources, talent, people, entertainment, connection, etc. But the challenge … for most of us … (is that) we came of age in a world where the structures, and more importantly, the deeply imbedded culture of the hierarchy, has been our reality.”
Today, this new emerging world of the network is influencing the education industry and sector, as well as the world at large. He said: “It’s colliding with our existing traditional and historical world of the hierarchy. As more and more of our marketplaces behave and operate in network infrastructures, as more and more of the communities, the students that we’re serving operate and think in networks, it poses the question how do we pull in more of this thinking, more of this mindset into our institutions?”
And that is the challenge when it comes to a leadership perspective. Deliotte Insights’ 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report shows that the most important trend is the need to break down functional hierarchies and build more team-based organizations. “It was not No. 10 on the list,” Mattison said. “It was No. 1.”
Mattison said there is a final component called the “inner shift” where our inner state reflects our outer state. “We get so caught up in thinking (that) we’ve got to change our organizations,” he said. Yet most people don’t think they have to change. “That’s baloney,” he said. “True transformation starts here.”
But with that realization comes an opportunity to actually become aware that this is a defining moment, he said. “If you become aware of it, it allows you to define the moment, and not let the moment define you.”
Career education schools must position themselves, recognize where opportunities lie and then capitalize on those opportunities, he said.
Generation Z students, those born roughly between 1996 and 2010, definitely offer opportunities for career schools, because they are the next generation of students career schools are starting to serve, Mattison said. These students tend to be resilient, realistic and resourceful.
“One in seven Generation Z saw one or both of their parents lose their job during the Great Recession,” he said. And the vast majority watched as older siblings graduated with four-year degrees and were unable to get a job in their industry or who were underemployed and saddled with $50,000 in university debt.
In Generation Z focus groups, one message keeps coming up: these students will not go to college unless they know exactly what they want to do. “This era of going to university to discover and self-actualize, to find yourself, those days are over,” Mattison said.
That means that schools need to be mending relationships or building new relationships at the high school level, and start the conversation about careers at a much earlier age, he said. Schools need to think about their relationship with junior high and high schools, and if no relationship exists, create one so they can start to show the students where opportunities are, and if they follow this path, there will be a guaranteed job for them.
Another characteristic is their relationship to power. “We’re living in this period of time today where anyone, anywhere in the world has the potential, has the capability, to put forth an idea that has the potential to reach the masses,” he said. “This idea that you have power at a much younger age is taking shape.”
An example of the power shift happening in the world is the Parkland shooting survivors. “This isn’t a debate about gun control or gun issues at all,” he said. “This is me looking at this around the dynamic of power,” he said, showing a picture of five of the survivors on the cover of Time magazine. “They didn’t even have to think about it. They didn’t need a big focus group to figure out what’s our strategy. In less than 24 hours, they just leveraged the tools that they had been using. They immediately gravitated to social media, put together a message and came out with a unified voice to influence power at the highest levels.”
Mattison suggested people read “New Power” by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms. “This is one of the most important reads of our time,” he said. The theory behind the book is that today’s new power isn’t just toward youth, but rather is available to all. “This is a physical manifestation and real world example of new power,” he said. “What they included in their research was that once you had a taste of new power, you could never go back.”
And that is an entire fundamental shift around how we think about this dynamic, he said, and how we communicate and connect.