If you were starting a career 40 years ago, you probably believed—correctly, in many cases—that you’d be able to do whatever you were trained to do for your entire life. That’s no longer true.
Today, technologies that were considered science fiction just a decade ago—3D printing, artificial intelligence (AI), drones and driverless vehicles, among others—are becoming realities. And there’s more to come.
Our educational system was structured to maintain the status quo. Students spend 12 years in the classroom—with perhaps an additional two years at a community college or in an apprenticeship program, or four to six years at a university—and then are turned loose to apply the skills they’ve acquired for the next 40-plus years, until they retire.
That’s the world of the aging auto mechanic who can perform magic on a classic muscle car, but is in the dark when it comes to the computers and sensors that control today’s vehicles. That’s the world we lived in yesterday, not the world of today.
What lies ahead will be even more challenging. The world of the future will require us to adapt to constant technological change. As a result, many workers, including (and perhaps especially) those involved in manufacturing, will have to fully reboot their skills several times over the course of their careers. Even with increased emphasis on STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math), the U.S. education system can’t accommodate this new normal.
By necessity, the task will fall on private business—and maybe that’s where it belongs, since business has the most to gain from keeping skills in line with technological advances and the most to lose if skills don’t keep up. Most companies, however, aren’t prepared for this challenge.