A trusted advisor helps me answer last week’s questions…

Last week, I posted about a McKinsey report that projected workforce demographics into the year 2030:

  • 38 million to 40 million fewer workers with tertiary education (college or postgraduate degrees) than employers will need, or 13 percent of the demand for such workers
  • 45 million too few workers with secondary education in developing economies, or 15 percent of the demand for such workers
  • 90 million to 95 million more low-skill workers (those without college training in advanced economies or without even secondary education in developing economies) than employers will need, or 11 percent oversupply of such workers

In that post I raised some questions:

  • How does a company like IBM need to set its strategic objectives to survive and thrive in what promises to be a highly chaotic work environment?
  • How does the IBM Corporate Service Corps fit into such a strategy?
  • The report presents this evolution as inevitable.  Is it?  Are there any new, disruptive approaches that could stave off this impending gap?  I’m thinking in particular of disruptive education policies and the rise of freely available primary curricula along the lines of Kahn Academy; how can we leverage this kind of approach to make the size of the gap smaller?
  • Finally, and most importantly, what does this mean to me as a parent?  How do I advise my children as they decide how they want to shape their own lives, and help them plan their future?

I am still ruminating on the first two questions; my gut tells me I won’t have an intelligible answer until I go out in the field, gain some first-hand experience, and have a chance to learn from other people doing the same.  But I have made some progress on the second two, after consulting with one of my closest, most trusted advisors:  my eleven-year-old son Artemis.

Artemis guides a robotic arm through an obstacle course at the Farnborough Air Show

I gave Artemis a copy of the McKinsey report to read and asked him what he thought of it.  He told me that the answer was obvious: if there are 45 million too few workers with secondary educations and 90 million unskilled workers without jobs, then if we educated at least half of those 90 million workers we would solve one problem and halve the other.

Socratic dialog being the norm in our household, I then asked him how we go about achieving that goal.  He thought about that for a while, and then told me that it would be very expensive to educate all the children in African villages, and that the dictators in those countries would just take the money.

Then he asked me the million-dollar-question…  “what difference do you think I can make?”  I had been hoping for that question.  I talked about disruptive strategies, ways to get education into the hands of people directly, bypassing corrupt governments entirely, and making it free so that anyone could afford it, no matter how poor.  I must have been overbearing in my passion, because he got a worried expression on his face and said, “That’s a lot of pressure, dad.  I don’t think I could ever live up to your expectations of me.”

That threw me for a loop, because he was absolutely right.  Any idea that started with me, would instantly be taken as pressure, and had the potential to turn what could be a grand adventure into a living hell.  And talking further, Artemis and I realized there were really a million different ways a child might act on the information in that report, and use it to shape life choices.  Some of the ones we came up with together:

  • Being able to access free educational content like Khan Academy requires speaking English or one of the other languages it has been translated into.  Working on a way to make language instruction itself available globally would be a huge enabler
  • A child with an interest in engineering might direct his energy to concentrate on a way to distribute free access to a browser and an internet connection, so that all this magnificent content would be truly accessible even to the most impoverished.
  • Finally, along a very different line of thinking, that many unemployed, unskilled laborers is a certain recipe for political unrest.  A child who cared about protecting her family or country might well be inspired to serve in her country’s police or armed forces.

And it was over the course of this conversation that my role as a parent became clear to me.  My son and my daughter have to decide what future they will make of their lives.  What I have to do as a parent is make sure they understand enough about where the world is heading so that they can make decisions that are relevant, well-informed, and directed towards bringing about the sort of world they want to live in.  I ran this thought by Artemis, and he informed me that was the right way to do it.  And then he asked if he could play Assassins Creed II on the Xbox.

There are some days where being a parent is the best job in the world.

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One thought on “A trusted advisor helps me answer last week’s questions…

  1. That is possibly one of the best perspectives of parenting that I have seen in a long time. I have spent substantial effort in helping my sons understand the basics of critical thinking, but as a basic skill rather than with a particular goal in minst such as the one you have arrived at. Very valuable insights – thank you.

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