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We take a lot for granted when we talk about the future, especially the future of education. The Worldwide Educating for the Future Index, a recent report by the Economist and funded by the Yidan Prize, claims that “on educating for the future, the world must try harder.” Educating for the future of what? As always, the tacit reference is the future of work:

“The rapid development of digital technology and the globalised nature of economic systems are creating an entirely new set of educational challenges for the world to adapt to. The workers of the future will need to master a suite of adaptable interpersonal, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and navigate an increasingly digital and automated world.”

Not only is it taken for granted that the future means the future of work, but it’s also taken for granted who will contribute to this future:

 

In many ways, this map simply tracks the service areas and sacrifice zones of neoliberal globalization.

The Worldwide Educating for the Future Index markets itself as unlike other measures (they’re talking about you, PISA) because “It’s the first comprehensive global index to evaluate inputs to education systems rather than outputs such as test scores.” The Economist determines which countries are likely to produce workers with future-ready skills through an index that tracks education policy environments, teaching environments, and the socio-economic environments. In principle, this shift away from test scores could help to free us from what Vasco d’Agnese calls PISA’s colonialism, however, it also reproduces many of the biases that the OECD and PISA have exported globally.

Like the OECD, The Economist is unresponsive to any democracy and both elevate human capital over citizens. This particular report is funded by the organization set up by billionaire Charles Yidan and ironically shaped by the advice of PISA champion Andreas Schleicher.

For d’Agnese, PISA’s colonialism comes from “faith in a unique tool – and in a unique society”. That unique society is one where, following the changes brought about by neoliberal globalization,

“the only possible option is that education follows and adjusts, which is why education is all-consumed by learning. Existence is framed by success, money, and competition, and there is no space for alternative values. Thus, knowledge is defined and consumed by its monetary value, and human beings are conceived and understood as human capital – an approach that is both characteristic of and functional to neoliberalism.”

In a typology of futures, Kent de Heyer, drawing on Noel Gough, argues that tacit, token, and taken for granted futures encourage us to ‘act out someone else’s scenes’ – the market’s – rather than imagine better possibilities than what currently seem probable. The tacit are “never clearly stated” (prepare kids for ‘the real world’), the token are cliches (21st Century), and the taken for granted assume ‘more of the same’ (increasing automation).1I have used this paragraph in another post about George Monbiot

 

In many ways, The Economist and the OECD both set the stage for and act in smaller plays performed more locally. For example, following a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on the future of work 2016-2026, the Hechninger Report produced this headline about the United States: “Without changes in education, the future of work will leave more people behind.”

We are so used to the story that it’s education that’s broken that we need to more consciously stop and examine the data behind such headlines. The New York Times produced an informative graphic that helps correct the narrative:

Of course, many well-informed voices have been saying this for a long time.

 

Even as we read that new-sounding occupations are gathering steam -Solar photovoltaic installers, Wind Turbine Service technicians, both growing by over 90% – in terms of sheer numbers, it’s the low-payed healthcare support jobs that are guaranteed to grow the most.

Even though jobs requiring Master’s Degree will change at a rate of 15.8% compared jobs that require only a High School Diploma (5.2%), only 2.6 million jobs current require an MA, a small fragment of  61.5 million jobs that require only HS or 23.9 million that require no formal credentials at all.

In the BLS summary, the healthcare sector, which was omitted from the NYT infographic, stands out: “Healthcare support occupations (23.2 percent) and healthcare practitioners and technical occupations (15.2 percent) are projected to be among the fastest growing occupational groups during the 2016–26 projections decade. These two occupational groups–which account for 14 of the 30 fastest growing occupations from 2016 to 2026–are projected to contribute about one-fifth of all new jobs by 2026.”

If we break down the healthcare segment of the top 30 occupations with the most job growth, then we find the majority of these jobs are low-wage:

 

 

So, here’s one way to look at the whole narrative about education systems failing to provide skills of the future for employers:

Maybe schools should cultivate creativity & critical thinking not because the ‘jobs of the future’ demand these skills that are necessary for an educated citizenry, but because most jobs restrict these human capacities?

Often, the more we work in jobs with machines the more machine-like we need to become.

Yet, maybe some of the least recognize and most important work – caring for others – is precisely where we find creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and all the others skills that are apparently so desirable. That is, the ‘jobs of the future’ narrative has duped us on another level: because it never talks about care work, it seems as if that work is unimportant and low-skill. In a story on Vox, a support worker named Nathan Auldridge says that though “the pay is shit”, “You can’t make a robot do what I do.” The article continues:

“A lot of people who look from the outside in think we’re just glorified babysitters, but we’re not,” Brittany Hampton, 31, said. She makes around $800 a month in Washington state near Seattle as a home care assistant. “We’re prolonging their lives. We’re allowing them to stay at home, versus a nursing home or rehab center. We are, of course, the cooks, the cleaners. We are companions. We are sometimes the first responders in case of emergencies.”

“We come in, we’re basically counselor, we’re security guard, we’re chef, we’re custodian, we’re chaperone,” said Myles Surland Van Tams, a 32-year-old who works full time in a New York City group home supporting people with developmental disabilities.

I can tell you from having worked several years as support for a young man with developmental delays that there is nothing low-skill about the work. It demands creativity, communication, and critical thinking skills at a level and intensity that certainly matches many of the ‘innovative’ jobs.

The ‘jobs of the future’ narrative is broken beyond repair: there’s no skills gap that education needs to fill, nor do the vast majority of the jobs that actually require many of the 21c skills pay very well. Why is that? The Vox article continues:

Caregiving — a low-paid, low-status job — is also most often done by disadvantaged workers. One in 10 working black women are employed in direct care; more than a quarter of direct care workers are black women. In contrast, while white women make up 35 percent of these jobs, only one in 37 working white women is employed in direct care. Latina women, as well as immigrant women, are also disproportionately represented.

Since women of color are disproportionately represented in these growing jobs of the future, why are they not represented in the forecasts about the future? In an article called Where are the Black Futurists?(2000), the author (listed as ‘Black Issues’) reflects on an all white male C-SPAN futurist panel:

“there are too many people talking about the future without considering the future of African Americans and other people of color.
By not considering us, is the majority implicitly suggesting that we don’t matter? Do they think that as America ages, we will continue to play the traditional service and support roles for their communities? When I hear estimates from the U.S. Department of Labor that we’ll need nearly a million home health aides in the next decade, and I know that most home health aides now are Black and Brown women, I conclude that unless the wage structure changes, the future implications for those women and their families are frightening.
But the futurists mainly seem to be predicting what an aging society will need without predicting who will provide it.”2I’ve used this quote before, but find it very compelling, so I’ve recycled it here.

 

 

 

I have written more extensively about jobs of the future from another angle here:

 

 

 

Header image by Loubna Benamer

References   [ + ]

1. I have used this paragraph in another post about George Monbiot
2. I’ve used this quote before, but find it very compelling, so I’ve recycled it here.
I footnotes