What does it take to prepare for a better career and financial life today?
Though he’s earned a reputation as one of the world’s most innovative educators, Sal Khan, founder of the online Khan Academy, attributes his personal successes not so much to the questions he has answered as to the ones he has asked.
Years ago, while pondering his career choices, “I was always asking people about their work. How do you do a job like that? Do you love it? What does it pay?” Khan recalls. “I was lucky to have access to people who could answer my questions. Otherwise, my life could have turned out very differently.”
With technology and other forces disrupting the workplace and reinventing economies like never before, that type of mentoring is more vital than ever. Millions of young people need help navigating the complexities of their careers and financial lives, says Khan, who has worked with Bank of America to deliver Khan Academy financial content for the bank’s Better Money Habits financial education program. Many traditional guideposts that helped past generations make their way into the adult economy have disappeared. Full-time jobs are harder to come by and provide less long-term security than they once did.
Reaching all of those young eyes, ears, and minds means looking beyond just classrooms and in-person mentoring, to digital platforms delivered in the most democratic way—online, mobile, and open to anyone with an Internet connection.
The pressures of a changing world
By 2020, an estimated 43 percent of the U.S. workforce will be made up of freelance workers—many of them recent college graduates trying to find their way into full-time employment. While this new “gig economy” offers unprecedented freedom to choose when, where, and how we work, it also comes with substantial and often complex new responsibilities, in everything from paying taxes to managing a budget to planning for retirement.
“In my parents’ generation, it was common to work for one company your entire career. For people my age, that number’s closer to five or six, and the next generation may be working for six companies at once,” says Andrew Plepler, global head of Environmental, Social and Governance at Bank of America. “Young people will need to prepare for a complete change in the dynamics of work and personal finance. That’s why we believe so strongly in educational programs like Better Money Habits.”
Racing the robots
A prime force in this transforming workforce is technology. Over the next two decades, nearly half of the current jobs in the U.S. could be at risk thanks to advances in computers and robotics, according to a December 2016 White House report. These innovations aren’t just changing how and where we work—they’re pushing us to fundamentally revise our definition of work itself.
While one might expect mostly low-skill, low-wage jobs to be affected, artificial intelligence is increasingly able to handle tasks up and down the pay scale. Even jobs that aren’t eliminated outright are likely to be altered in substantial ways—with far less emphasis on rote learning and repetitive tasks. A recent McKinsey study found that nearly two-thirds of all occupations could see 30 percent or more of their activities automated.
Workers, then, will need to continually re-learn and re-train, emphasizing skills that remain beyond the realm of machines. A World Economic Forum projection of the skills employees will need most by 2020 puts special emphasis on critical thinking, creativity, and emotional intelligence. While such qualities may in part be innate, they can certainly be nurtured and developed through exposure to positive influences.
“Through honest discussions, young professionals can empathize with one another and share knowledge about the obstacles they’re facing and the solutions they’ve found,” Plepler notes. For example, Better Money Habits offers a Khan Academy video series featuring professionals from a wide variety of careers, discussing their successes and challenges as well as the financial choices they’ve made. Plepler adds, “Whether you want to become a firefighter, a salon owner, or an engineer, you can hear from other young professionals what it takes to do that in today’s economy.”
An expanded learning curve
Recognizing the evolving needs of the marketplace, many traditional schools are scaling back rote memorization and embracing real-world problem solving. The Big Picture Learning internship program, for example, empowers high school students to learn through real-world experiences, and is considered a standard bearer for what high school might look like in 15 years. In this program, students choose an interest, find a mentor, and design their own education experience.
New educational programs such as coding academies and other specialized engineering and computer science programs models, meanwhile, are making it possible for adult workers learn new skills at any point in their careers.
Just as important as such enrollment-based models are open digital learning platforms. Khan believes they have a firm and growing place to fill in the educational universe. Free, democratic, available to all, they can provide both factual information—and, perhaps more importantly, an opportunity to find answers to the questions that shape lives and careers.
“One of the biggest ways to level the playing field,” says Khan, “is to give all young people the same context on what opportunities are out there. And that means touching on some of the questions that are a little taboo in society: How much money do you make? What are your stresses? What would you do differently if you could? But if you don’t ask those questions, you might miss a chance to change your life.”
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