Adapt Education to the On-Demand Economy

Traditional education solutions needs to be adapted to the changing economy that is characteristic of on-demand work. The one size fits all approach to education has yielded increased costs, massive debt loads and commoditized student outcomes that will increasingly leave student’s struggling.

There are too many people moving through an industrialized learning process, receiving the same skills and competing for the same jobs. These jobs require the same set of standardized skills and the numbers available to graduates are not increasing. Adding more likeminded and like skilled graduates to the job pool creates a bubble. As a result, smaller and predominantly liberal arts schools, are commoditized in their offerings and will struggle to place students onto traditional career paths.

Despite the commoditization of education, there is a unique dynamic developing for hardworking and industrious people. 

On-Demand Economy and the Future of Work

Uber, Doordash, Upwork and a many other “gig as a service” companies have created marketplaces for people to monetize a particular skillset or asset that would otherwise be underused. These on-demand concepts are created with increasing frequency and consumers are willing to pay for the convenience of a task completed quickly.

Gig work is a great opportunity for the highly educated class of job seekers who can benefit from an environment that rewards a person’s ability to produce work on-demand. Both the educated generalist such as the traditionally liberal arts type student as well as those with specialized knowledge that have chosen STEM education stand to benefit from Gig work. Individuals that are willing to take on a solutions oriented mindset and a scrappy ability to make something from limited resources can profit from the on-demand economy.

A highly educated and on-demand workforce would be ideal for startups and corporate freelancing opportunities. Businesses can balance employment risk by making short term commitments with an on-demand workforce while reducing non-payroll expenses such as healthcare and office space. It would also benefit the gig worker in facilitating multiple streams of income and developing the freedom of self-employment.

The Internet Removes the Gatekeepers of Knowledge

Over the past several years a shift has taken place where by the creation of non-traditional educational institutions has taken away the gatekeeper status for knowledge held by traditional schools. These non- traditional institutions promote apprentice style education formats that have worked well for occupations such as plumbers and electricians. New opportunities focus on building specialized as opposed to generalized skills and include offerings such as Lambda School, General Assembly, self paced Data Bootcamps, and workshops for creatives and marketers.

The key discovery with these programs is that educational focus need not be generalized and “well rounded” formats for all. Many required courses and skills taught by traditional education provide little to know value. Teaching unneeded skills is like waking a patient up in the middle of the night for a sleeping pill. Excessive, unnecessary and costly.

As an example, I was required to have gym credits in college so I took a fitness walking class. I learned that there was a muscle on my shin that hurts after walking fast for prolonged periods of time. An interesting fact but not work the time or value.

Their are valid arguments that a state a well rounded education is valuable. No doubt, it’s impossible for people to know what skills they may need down the road and taking a wide range of coursework is a good hedge on future needs. With that said, these argument ignore the independent research and learning capabilities of individuals in the information age.

Converting Hobbies to Value

Highly educated individuals are often lifelong learners. The ease of access to information through the internet and an abundance of new learning resources makes it possible for students to specialize their education through more formal means and focus on well rounded learning through alternative means.

The on-demand economy allows for independent research. Lifelong learners can fill their extra time with independent research in hopes of exploring passion topics and developing alternative streams of income or benefit for society. In this way, they will ultimately be able to achieve a well rounded education. Like the hobbyist scholars of the 18th and 19th century, individuals can pursue passion projects in addition to their other work.

Reality Check

But let’s face it, the shift to on-demand labor is a movement away from established business to frontier opportunities. Even with traditional career paths so overpopulated it’s a pretty significant leap to assume many will pursue a path of self-employment.

The reality is that society is still in the early adopter phase of the on-demand economy. Most people will avoid non-traditional careers paths unless they are given proper guard rails.

It would make sense then for educational institutions on the periphery to adapt their curriculums to this on-demand work dynamic. Incorporating the skills necessary to survive in a gig style economy will create significant opportunity on the edge of the digital economy and allow smaller schools with commoditized offerings to have new ways of differentiating themselves.

Institutions should specialize in certain fields that are conducive with digital businesses.

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