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The Economy Is Going to Keep Changing, So We Need to Adjust Our Skills

October 7, 2016 7 minute Read by Holly Kuzmich
The economy is constantly changing. This generation of students needs to be prepared to tackle a number of different jobs along a career pathway with many more twists and turns than previous generations.

Whether we like it or not, today’s economy looks vastly different than it did a generation ago. And it’s pretty much a guarantee that in another few decades, the economy will look even more different.  Getting used to that fact, and preparing this generation of students for the changing economy, are both issues to address.

That difference is exemplified in the case of my own family. When he retired 17 years ago, my father had worked at the same company for over 40 years. He wasn’t the only one among family and friends his age who had a decades-long career at one company. 

As a kid, I thought that was normal, but that kind of career stability is largely unheard of these days.  In fact, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average worker holds over 11 jobs between the ages of 18 and 48.

Fortunately, the end of the one-and-done career has been accompanied by job growth over the last several years and a reasonable unemployment rate. Also, the United States ranks high in measures of competitiveness against other countries.

Still, there are growing pains.  Our economy has been moving away from a manufacturing-based economy towards a service-based economy, and that has created an unease among Americans that we have yet to fully adjust to.  While unemployment appears to be reasonable, millions of people have dropped out of the job market, and growth overall has been somewhat sluggish.

At the same time, productivity and technology have driven the manufacturing sector to produce more goods than at any time in history, just with fewer people producing them. This has led to pockets of our population who are out of a job, and who haven’t been able to find new work given the transition to a service-based economy.  That pain has been especially felt in the Rust Belt.

Productivity and technology have driven the manufacturing sector to produce more goods than at any time in history, just with fewer people producing them. This has led to pockets of our population who are out of a job, and who haven’t been able to find new work given the transition to a service-based economy. 

The conversation playing out in our current political discourse has largely put the blame on free trade instead of on gains in productivity, innovation, and technology.  In the first presidential debate, the North American Free Trade Agreement was blasted as the single worst trade deal ever made—not by the Democratic candidate, which would have been more expected, but by the Republican candidate. 

Protectionism is only a short-term solution.  Some policymakers would prefer to not put free trade agreements into place, but that won’t fix the fact that the rest of the world will continue to take advantage of those gains in productivity and innovation, and the United States will lag behind if we make trade more difficult. 

A changing economy will continue to be the name of the game, and at some point, we are going to have to start adjusting both our mindsets and our skill sets to acknowledge this.

A changing economy will continue to be the name of the game, and at some point, we are going to have to start adjusting both our mindsets and our skill sets to acknowledge this.

Regarding our mindsets, we are going to have to update our thinking and recognize that we can’t hide from this transition, instead of longing for the old days when people like my father were able to work at the same company for over four decades.

On our skill sets, we are going to have to prepare workers with the skills most in need in the future. The transition to a service-oriented economy means workers need the skills that allow them to succeed in this environment — namely problem-solving, strategic thinking, project management, and the ability to work with a team.  These types of skills have the added benefit of being transferable across industries. A good project manager is a highly valuable employee no matter where he or she works.

And continued education beyond high school is only getting more important.  Most jobs of the future require some education beyond high school, and the gap in wages between young workers with a college degree and their less-educated counterparts is wider than it has been in decades.

The good news is that millennials are more educated than their parents and grandparents. The bad news is that they need to keep up the pace as future generations are going to continue to need to be even more educated. Today’s students cannot rest on their laurels by looking at their parents and thinking that the same level of education will get them as far in life.

The transition to a service-oriented economy means workers need the skills that allow them to succeed in this environment — namely problem-solving, strategic thinking, project management, and the ability to work with a team. 

And finally, jobs requiring math and science skills will continue to grow and be in high demand.  Seventy-five percent of the fastest-growing occupations require significant math or science preparation. Ensuring that enough students are getting an education in STEM fields must continue to be a priority.

The one constant in the economy is that it is always changing.  People’s skills need to reflect that, and people need to be prepared for change.


Author

Holly Kuzmich
Holly Kuzmich

Holly Kuzmich serves as Executive Director of the George W. Bush Institute and Senior Vice President at the George W. Bush Presidential Center. She oversees the strategy and management of the Bush Institute, an action-oriented policy organization that cultivates leaders, fosters policies to solve today’s most pressing challenges, and takes action to save and change lives. Specific areas of focus within the Institute include education reform, economic growth, human freedom and democracy, global health, the military service initiative, the women’s initiative, and the Presidential Leadership Scholars program.  Holly also serves as a member of the management team of the Bush Center, leading strategic planning and budgeting and board relations.

Previously, she was Vice President and COO of Margaret Spellings & Company, a public policy consulting firm with a specialty in education and workforce issues at the national, state, and local levels.  Holly also served as the Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs and Deputy Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education.  In those roles, she served as the main liaison with Congress, the White House, and the Office of Management and Budget on education policy issues including the No Child Left Behind Act and the Higher Education Act and oversaw policy development within the agency.

Holly came to the Department from the White House Domestic Policy Council, where she served as Associate Director for Education. Prior to that, she spent five years working in the U.S. Senate on domestic policy issues. 

A native of South Bend, Indiana, she received her bachelor's degree from Northwestern University.

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