The Startup of You
Thomas Friedman wrote an opinion piece in a recent edition of the New York Times titled, “The Start-up of You”. Many of you know that Thomas Friedman is the author of the book titled: The World is Flat. In this article he contends that to stay fully employed in the future means that one has to be flexible, nimble, and a life-long learner. It also means that our higher education system must also be flexible, nimble, and prepare our graduates to be life-long learners.The Start-Up of You – NYTimes
The article gives examples of some of the most well-known growth companies in the world today, such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, that have a very small number of employees compared to their market valuation. Employers today, because of the severe recession, are expecting employees to be even more productive by increasing their dependence on automation technologies, software, outsourcing, robotics, or anything that can reduce headcount, which will in turn reduce costs to companies for healthcare and pensions.
Companies that are hiring are being very careful to find people who have critical thinking skills who do value-added jobs that technology cannot, but also people who can innovate and adapt on the job. They need to embrace change and be willing to reinvent themselves.
Another premise of the article is that professionals need to adopt the mindset and skillset that is similar to an entrepreneur. Professionals need to change and adapt to the future based on what they learn. This is the essence of life-long learning, and we need to better prepare our graduates for it. We need to offer more opportunities for our graduates as well the opportunity for others to have new learning experiences that is easy for them to access.
One challenge is determining how to best prepare students for life-long learning while convincing them that it is vitally important for their careers. Another challenge is figuring out how to offer life-long learning opportunities for our graduates and others so that it is convenient and easily accessible. Finally, the College of Technology must also embrace change and know that we need to behave like entrepreneurs and constantly reinvent our curriculum.
We need to adopt the practice of constantly experimenting and adapting based on what we learn. We lose credibility with our students when we urge them to be life-long learners if they see us unwilling to change and embrace technology to facilitate and enhance learning or teaching topics that are outdated or based on old technology.
So what should we do? I am going to try to suggest a solution for our graduates’ life-long learning challenge by solving one of our other problems. In future blogs I will be addressing funding in higher education and the role of donations. One of the issues we have in the College of Technology is that we have a relatively low percentage of our alumni donating when compared to other colleges at Purdue. What if we adopted a plan that if, as an alumni, you donated a modest amount to the college every year, we would then provide you with a certain number of hours of free on-line/on-site learning experiences that contributed to your life-long learning experiences? Alumni would be better prepared for the challenges of staying on top of their profession, stay connected with their alma mater, and have networking opportunities with other alumni. The college would benefit from having additional resources to improve our programs, provide faculty support to keep them at the leading edge of their discipline, and provide more scholarship for future students — a kind of pay-it-forward mindset that continues to invest in the future of our nation. This is a win-win scenario that would benefit all of us and is one important way we can move our college from Good to Great.