Connections: The Newsletter of the National Career Pathways Network

Volume 30, No. 3
Learning and Earning with Stackable Credentials

Foresight 2020: The Evolution of Work and Education

Josh Davies, CEO, Center for Work Ethic Development

Josh Davies 2020 has been a year like no other—causing massive impacts across the world. And both the workforce and the education system here in America have taken a direct hit. More than 36 million Americans lost their jobs in the first half of the year, and while many jobs have come back, the reality is that many of those layoffs will be permanent. The University of Chicago estimates that 42 percent of the jobs lost will never come back (Davis, 2020). Alongside this development, technology is propelling an economic and digital transformation that is placing unprecedented demands on education—amplifying the call from employers for educators to better align their programs with changing industry needs.

At a time when educators are being called upon to evolve their programs, the education system is facing multiple negative fatal factors: decreased funding, declining enrollments, and a dependence on outdated standards. While 2020 didn’t create the challenges and problems we are now facing—it accelerated them significantly. While things may seem bleak, this is the perfect opportunity to evolve and fill the critical gaps between workforce and education.

The way we teach and the jobs we train students for have been changing over the past decade, but today the speed of that change is faster than ever. More than 114,000 public and private schools have gone virtual because of concerns around COVID-19, and many more are closing to in-person instruction (Kennedy, 2020). It isn’t just instructional methods that are changing. The jobs that we are training our students for are changing too, with futurists estimating that 85 percent of the jobs of 2030 have not even been invented yet (Institute for the Future and Dell Technologies, 2017). And while technology will be a powerful driver in the jobs of tomorrow, our future success will ultimately depend on our humanity—our ability to do things that machines cannot do. According to a survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, employers are looking for graduates who can bring innovation into the workplace, solve complex problems, communicate clearly, and use evidence-based analyses to make their decisions (AACU, 2018). Those are distinctly human skills, and they are transferrable. They will be in demand no matter which career pathways our students are on.

Increasingly, the jobs of the future will focus on skills instead of degrees. This is the sweet spot where programs at both the secondary and postsecondary level can not only provide an alternative to the inflated cost and time commitment of baccalaureate degrees but can also provide a hyper-local focus on the specific job skills needed in our home communities. By building sustainable skills, creating lifelong learners, and developing micro-credentials, we will prepare our students to succeed now and in the future. The key is to take this opportunity to engage and promote our work with employers, students, and, most importantly, parents. We need to take advantage of these times and use 2020 as our guide to becoming more effective, inclusive, and relevant. Now is the time for foresight, not hindsight!

The author can be contacted at