Michael Barber: Become Your Own Career Agent

Young people “will need to be self-motivated, active agents prepared to take responsibility for their own learning and skill development,” said Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor at Pearson, in An Avalanche is Coming: Higher Education and the Revolution Ahead.
In our Google Hangout with Barber he credits LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, author of Startup of You, for prompting this theme of motivated, active agents.
In the old days, when Barber and I were in school, we relied on schools and organizations for our development. A good degree meant a good job. The old bargain is broken–a degree no longer guarantees employment. The good news is that there are new, fast and affordable pathways to employment–the thesis of the GenDIY series.
Barber notes that learners today often assemble learning opportunities and credits from a range of providers. “You need to think what you want to learn…and what you aspire to be.” Assembling your own education means you “can’t wait for someone else to do it,” according to Barber.
Cultivating this sort of agency should start in the middle grades, but Barber notes that it’s “hard to get really good advice.”
“Mentorship is a really important part of education now,” said Barber.  
In the interview, I admitted that Barber and I had something to do with with the pendulum swinging toward traditional higher education and away from technical training (with good reasons 15 years ago). But with the drop in the return on traditional education and affordability of new pathways, it was time to reconsider options.
The Swiss system is the new gold standard for vocational education–about 70% of Swiss youth are on this technical track.
Barber noted the growth of coding bootcamps like General Assembly where, in a matter of weeks, participants could learn employable skills at an affordable price. He added, “It won’t last. You need to keep learning.”
In the old days when you left college, you wanted to buy house and car and you rented labor. Now, as Barber notes, Millennials rent a car, rent a house, but own themselves. “It’s a powerful way of seeing the shift of generations.”
Another Hoffman influenced concept from Avalanche is that young people “will need to understand how to create value to receive value and act as the entrepreneur of their own career.”
Between working for yourself and others, it’s important to draw your own through line, charting a course through a series of projects (see Preparing Students for a Project Based World).
On the subject of mentoring, Barber added the example of his cycling–a blended fitness routine combing virtual mentoring and quantified self. He added, “Young people will think like that.”
Acting as “the entrepreneur of your own career” requires young people to be their own brand manager and portfolio manager.  
Whether employment or contracting, work is now a negotiation between a company and an individual. Barber said, “People want to learn, to have meaning, to work with great people making a difference.”

About “GenDIY”
eduInnovation and Getting Smart have partnered with The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation to produce a thought leadership campaign called Generation Do-It-Yourself (GenDIY) – how young people are hacking a pathway to a career they love – on The Huffington Post and GettingSmart.comThis campaign about reimagining secondary and postsecondary education and career skills will explore the new generation building a global economy and experiences that are impact driven and entrepreneurial. For more on GenDIY: 

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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