The People Puzzle – Part 2

Education and the Future

Robot businessman imageThis essay is Part 2 of The People Puzzle, a continuing discussion about finding (or creating) a future where “life is still good” for everyone, in the post – industrial economy. Part 1 of The People Puzzle presented a few of the pieces to this puzzle. Those pieces seemed to fall into three primary areas: demographic changes, advances in technology and education. In this essay, we look at education.

Part 1 offered three puzzle pieces especially related to education: (1) a report that over 99% of the 11.6 million jobs created (or recovered) by the U.S. economy in the years 2010 – 2015 went to people with t least some college education, (2) a question about what people whose jobs are eliminated by technology or economics should be re-educated to do, and (3) author Daniel Alpert’s contention that globalization has unleashed a hoard (literally billions) of under-educated people, all looking for a better life.

Here are two more puzzle pieces, all specific to education:

Girls and Boys >> The U.S. Department of Education has reported that 4 out of every 7 American college degree recipients in 2014 were female. [1]

The Cost of College >> The cost of attending college has skyrocketed. A CNBC report advises that tuition and fees in 2014 ran about $9,139 at public, four year schools, compared to less than $500 in 1971. The high cost of college has resulted in more than $1.2 trillion in student debt! [2]

Tomorrow’s Jobs Outlook [3]

This is how American workforce is employed now:

Farming, forestry and fishing –                                           0.7%

Manufacturing, mining, transportation and crafts –       20.3%

Managerial, professional and technical –                         37.3%

Sales and office –                                                                24.2%

Other services –                                                                  17.6%

Looking ahead to the next 35 years or so, it is difficult for me to imagine that employment in farming, forestry and fishing will increase. “Manufacturing, mining, and transportation” jobs will continue to be under heavy pressure from automation and lower wage workers elsewhere, as will “sales and office” jobs. Competition for “managerial, professional and technical” jobs will continue to increase globally as emerging economies produce more and more educated people (South Korea, for example). “Other services” jobs should be OK, to the extent that they serve protected niche markets (hair stylists, for example, serve a local customer base).

Putting the Pieces Together

It seems clear enough to me that tomorrow’s personal occupations are similar to today’s businesses, to the extent that differentiated talents, know-how and skill sets are increasingly necessary. It is education’s task to prepare an entire population for the employment that the emerging 21st century global economy demands.

For the U.S., that means rethinking education from first principles. America’s educational systems have evolved from providing basic literacy for everyone to primary and secondary education for almost everyone. 21st century occupations will require highly individualized – and highly relevant – primary, secondary and tertiary education (or skills acquisition training) on a continuous, life-long basis for everyone, all provided at a much lower cost to those being educated (or trained). Emerging technology will need to play an important role. Existing educational institutions will face extensive change or, in many cases, extinction. Fierce and persistent resistance to the necessary changes can be expected, if not guaranteed.

In Monet's GardenThoughtful comments and ideas on the structure and content of occupations – oriented 21st century education are invited and appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington


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[3] CIA World Factbook, (yes, that CIA). Figures are from 2009, the latest available. Should be close enough for our purposes here.