Skills for the post-pandemic economy

Skills for the post-pandemic economy. Is college still necessary?

by Eileen Wedegartner, JFYNet Learning Specialist

Is college still necessary?

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many people to decide to take a year off from higher education. The ballooning price of college tuition combined with the uncertain job outlook for recent college graduates make this decision understandable. But a longer view of the value of a college degree, beyond the immediate crisis, might lead to a different calculation.

In a recent blog, labor market guru Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce noted, “…this recession has highlighted the stark divide between white-collar and blue-collar work. As many businesses turned to telework to avoid interpersonal contact among workers, it became obvious that white-collar work — and, therefore, jobs that require postsecondary education and training — is generally easier to perform from home than blue-collar work.”

Workers with a college degree have long fared better in the job market, with fewer jobs lost and a quicker transition to recovery. Carnevale pointed to the long-term trend in the labor market as automation takes hold in more places: “As interest in automation technology grows, there likely will be a greater demand for workers who have the education required to invent and use this technology.”

The future of automation is not a matter of whether, but rather of how quickly, it will happen. In every occupation from grocery check-out to surgical assistance, robotics is taking on a broader role. The jobs of the future will require the skills to develop, work with and tune technology as robots perform more and more of the manual jobs that human workers used to do.

In another blog titled “More of Today’s Manufacturing Workers Have Bachelor’s Degrees than Ever Before,” Carnevale said, “The glory days of American manufacturing are gone and unlikely to return, as the industry plays a smaller role in an economy now dominated by services. But despite its decline, manufacturing has become more productive with the help of technology and more highly skilled workers.”

Taking a break from college might seem a reasonable way of reacting to the shock waves of COVID-19. But the long-term outlook for post-secondary education is only getting more compelling. The shutdown has transformed remote working from an exception to a rule, and technology is steadily making it more efficient and more effective. The need to graduate from high school ready for the challenges of college and a career in the tech-saturated workforce has grown more urgent.

At JFYNetWorks, we maintain our focus on helping students develop the skills they will need to ensure readiness for the challenges of transition from high school to post-secondary training and the workforce. These skills include language and math fundamentals, as always. But to be ready for the fluid jobs of the evolving labor market, young people now need new-economy skills like planning, self-advocacy, realigning work, and continuous improvement. This is the emerging post-pandemic profile of “College and Career Readiness.”

It’s not the pre-COVID economy anymore. The virus has changed more than we anticipated. The playing field of work is more virtual and more volatile, and the goal posts are continuously moving.

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