In this final installment of our seven-week Careers of the Future Series, Fred Ledley, professor of Natural and Applied Sciences and Management as well as director of the Bentley Center for Integration of Science and Industry, explores what exactly it takes for millennial students to prepare for tomorrow's careers — including those can't even be imagined today.
College graduates in 2014 will have more than a dozen different jobs during their lifetimes, many in industries and positions that haven’t even been created today.
And the world will change in ways that no one can predict, especially as computers attain human capabilities, biotechnologies blur the boundary between human and machine, global warming remodels our environment, and geopolitical, demographic, and economic forces reshape our societies.
As a result, it’s a mistake to measure the value of college solely by the salaries, titles or early-career advancement of graduates working in jobs that may soon cease to exist.
Instead, the value of college should be considered through a different lens — the immeasurable (and perhaps un-measurable) ability of millennial job seekers to embrace inevitable 21st century change.
That’s one of the reasons why institutions such as Bentley University don’t teach skills alone when they prepare millennial students for careers in management across an array of industries; it’s also a major reason why we do teach change management. Indeed, we tell students that one of the best ways to prepare for the careers of the future is by accepting the idea that change is only going to accelerate, perhaps exponentially.
When we talk about change, we especially talk about data, and how we’re approaching a juncture when certain technologies will seem almost human in their capabilities. So, if you’re a millennial studying to be an accountant in 2014, for example, it’s important to think about the role of the CPA when computers have the same wiring for algorithmic financial computation as the human brain. Who knows? Maybe the computer will be able to deliver results better and faster. This forward-spinning awareness is critical for students as they seek to find their career niche.
The big change driver here is our digital society. To borrow from economist Robert Solow, this is the residual; it’s what’s really driving growth today, and it’s what will really drive growth as millennials enter the workforce in growing numbers.
Understanding this, we at Bentley work hard to teach the key principles and critical thinking that will help our students recognize the next big thing. The future will not be a silicon chip from Intel, I can tell you that. But it might be DNA-based computing or quantum computing, which means that knowledge barriers will continue to constantly collapse.
Throughout this process, here and elsewhere in higher education, we must stay relevant and practical. That means managing data and being literate in data. Millennials will have to know enough about data to avoid being blindsided if they really want to succeed in the careers of the future.
Another key component of our pragmatic preparation at Bentley is grasping and communicating the central role of management.
It may sound odd, but managers today are sometimes overlooked. The fact is, however, that innovation strategies and processes absolutely must be organized and coordinated — or else we’ll slow down our escalating growth and progress.
Effective managers will increasingly require specialized knowledge of the sector in which they work.
This is particularly apparent in areas such as health care, where enterprises traditionally headed by physicians, who also had knowledge of management, are increasingly headed by managers who must, similarly, have knowledge of medicine.
This is also true in many other areas where enterprises that were traditionally led by individuals with training in engineering, chemistry or medicine are now being led by individuals trained in business.
The success of these organizations will require a host of managers with cutting-edge interdisciplinary knowledge — including boardroom strategy, project management and human resources, for example.
Individuals trained in disciplines other than management will increasingly need upgraded management skills, too, because the growing importance of lean practices and quality management — as well as the ability to integrate life-cycle management, sustainable practices and social responsibility in every enterprise — will provide a series of complex challenges as we head toward the 22nd century.
The bottom line, then, is pretty clear.
When you’re talking about getting ready for the careers of the future, you’ve got to develop a portfolio of sophisticated management skills. That’s the only way to really thrive in the complicated, changing and quicksilver-fast markets that now characterize and confront the global economy.
And this holds true whether millennials are educated in the natural or social sciences, technology or engineering — or even in business disciplines such as finance, accounting or marketing.
We’ve simply got to try and manage the future as best as we can.
Careers of the Future Series
Read other installments in our Careers of the Future Series:
Our 21st Century Mission: Preparing Students for the Careers of the Future
Blending Theory and Practice with Big Data
Human-Centered Design Is Putting Innovative Insights Into Action
Sustainability, the Merging of Science and Business
Economics Has Many Career Options, From Rock Singer to President of the United States
Accounting Helps Students Get Beyond the Numbers