Joseph E. Aoun
It’s that time of year when college students are interviewing for jobs they hope to celebrate after graduation. But in addition to well-known jobs like engineer, consultant, or financial analyst, every time we’re seeing new job titles emerge: forensic technologist, digital storyteller, and marketing automation manager.
Labor market data tells us that these “hybrid” jobs are rapidly on the rise. According to a report by the workforce analysis firm Burning Glass, more than a quarter of a million such positions opened between April 2014 and March 2015. These jobs, many of them in high fields that pay as experience User guard design for skill sets that are not commonly taught as a package. For example, positions in mobile development, which combines engineering, coding and computer skills, have grown 135 percent since 2011.
What does this mean for colleges and universities? If the new jobs that are emerging are becoming more and more hybrid, then the study programs may need to become hybridized as well.
My own conversations with employers across a wide range of industries support this thesis. In addition to confirming the known shortage of talent in the STEM fields, they say that the employees who are in greatest demand are those who can work in complex teams and think of all complex systems. Employers are looking for the kind of professional who can lead a team that includes, for example, an engineer, a coder, and a data scientist, effectively understanding all the various roles and coordinating through them.
The right kind of education to foster this kind of “systems thinking” ability has to be both broad and deep; Experience in a single domain will not be enough. For example, Pete McCabe, vice president of Global Services for GE Transportation, recently mentioned that his industry is in need of more “quarterbacks” – in other words, systems of thinkers supervising a team of specialists to solve a common problem. “Knowing how to connect, knowing where to push,” he says. “I would give my left pinky to ten more of those people.”
Similarly, Andrea Cox, from GE’s Aviation Engineering division, describes how his teams could be hundreds of specialists, ranging from materials engineers to designers, all of them thinking of different design elements of the engine. a plane. All of them, however, have to be able to capture the larger effort of keeping a plane in the air. “A design engineer has to understand how a part works,” she notes, “but also how it fits into the design of your module, and then how the module fits into an engine, and how it fits into the engine of an airplane. “
To be sure, in the economy of the future, a typical employee still needs in-depth knowledge of one domain, or more. But how can colleges teach a broader form of systems of thought to tomorrow’s graduates? I think it’s about three key elements: thematic study across disciplines, project-based learning, and experience opportunities. For example, in the university that I lead, students interested in sustainability don’t just study environmental science. Rather, they also take courses that expose them to relevant concepts in engineering, physics, economics, data analysis, health sciences, urban planning, and law – the range of disciplines that you are likely to encounter if you worked in sustainability in the real world.
On the other hand, students taking courses do not consider these topics in silos. Instead, they feature hands-on projects that give students the opportunity to synthesize knowledge in different fields, for example, building biomimetic “robots” that move like sea creatures, and are equipped with sensors that can measure changes in ocean temperature.
Finally, experiential learning opportunities, such as internships and cooperatives, can give students the opportunity to apply this synthesis in a field context, with all its nuances and quirks. For example, one of our students recently tested his learning by working in a cooperative with the Panama Canal Authority- where, among other things, he led a project to design and calculate the cost of rainwater harvesting systems to benefit to rural schools within the Canal basin. By requiring her to integrate concepts from engineering, environmental science, economics, and much more, the experience was an immersion in the way of thinking about systems played out in the real world.
In fact, students may need even more than all of this to master the jobs and skill sets that will be the hallmarks of our future economy. That’s because beyond the rise of complex equipment in the workplace, we are also seeing the rise of complex systems architecture in the world around us – in other words, the increasingly complex nexus between hardware, software and humans. Our smartphones are getting more sophisticated, driverless cars will soon be on our roads, and we are seeing the dawn of the Internet of Things.
Ultimately, this highly connected world will usher in a new era of higher education, which focuses on helping students understand in depth with networked systems of people, programs, and machines coming together to make it happen. our role in the workplace.
Like society itself, the job market is increasingly complex. By exposing students to systems thinking, higher education can prepare them to do the systems-oriented work needed for the jobs of tomorrow.