It’s time to reform learning

Ongoing changes in employment require a flexible, relevant education system

As has been frequently reported, the nature of work is undergoing profound changes due largely to automation, technology, artificial intelligence and globalization. This exacerbates fears among students and workers of how to succeed in an ever-transformative economy and contributes to a current and expanding situation of a workforce not possessing the skills required by modern and future-oriented employers.

To keep up with groundbreaking changes in employment requires an educational approach to training and learning that is flexible, relevant and targeted to the capricious and volatile state of the economy.

At present, traditional education institutions of high school and customary higher-ed bachelor degrees appear to be lagging behind innovative industry methodologies like short-term credentialing and user-responsive professional development. Much of business recognizes the value in foresight and pliable learning strategies necessary to uphold a workforce prepared for unpredictability.

Education systems are not known for their elasticity and capacity to adjust to change. Take a typical public high school curriculum, the stage through which most American workers first pass on their way to employability. Has there been much reorganization in the basic course load or method of earning a diploma since the mid-20th century? I think not.

This is an area where increased pressure to innovate is warranted. Beside a reassessment of curriculum relevance, another key concept we can hope for from high schools is that the message is getting through loud and clear to students that education does not stop with a diploma. The modern world is one in which continuous learning needs to be embraced if there is any hope for enjoying the fruits of professional mastery and robust compensation. Linking the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of learning is a valuable lifelong lesson.

To this end, workers will benefit from a more accommodating and welcoming world of pathways designed to prepare entry-level professionals, upskill existing workers and assist career-changers in a manner consistent with the metamorphosing economy of work. In addition to an acceptance of the importance of career-long learning is to realize credentials matter. From a college degree to a professional license to an industry-specific certification, possessing evidence from a reputable instructional source, in which a worker can demonstrate training and education within an area of expertise, is critical to advancing one’s career. The challenge becomes how to best earn pertinent credentials in a time effective and affordable manner.

Employment specialists and economists are suggesting several practices to ease credential acquisition. Kelsey Berkowitz is a policy advisor for Third Way’s Economic Program and has looked closely into this issue. Among the suggestions she makes is to:

• Increase the amount of credential stacking that is available. In other words, design short-term credential modules that can be combined into larger certifications or degrees. This could provide highly relevant on-demand training while also providing a means for adult workers to achieve higher education goals in more easily managed steps.

• Develop more apprenticeship programs. Evidence exists, particularly in Europe, of the effectiveness of industry-based programs that onboard entry-level workers and within a year or two produce trained and credentialed employees committed to the profession.

• Recognize prior experiences related to work by offering credit. It is not unusual for individuals to gain skills and insights applicable to their current jobs from events that occurred before being hired. Examples include acquired knowledge from the military, school programs, previous jobs or other situations where pertinent learning took place.

• Streamline onerous licensing mobility. Some 25% of all workers today are in fields requiring a professional license. However, in too many instances licenses are not reciprocal across state lines, creating burdens to reacquire licenses for those pros relocating to a new state.

The need for instructional and training flexibility will become increasingly necessary in order to keep a nimble and ready workforce. Let’s reform learning to better address this imperative.

Bill Ryan, who writes about career, employment and economic topics from his home in North Sutton, can be reached at

Categories: Business Advice