What you learned in preschool

By Claire Cain Miller via nytimes.com   Article

Why What You Learned in Preschool Is Crucial at Work

“For all the jobs that machines can now do — whether performing surgery, driving cars or serving food — they still lack one distinctly human trait. They have no social skills.

Yet skills like cooperation, empathy and flexibility have become increasingly vital in modern-day work. Occupations that require strong social skills have grown much more than others since 1980, according to new research. And the only occupations that have shown consistent wage growth since 2000 require both cognitive and social skills.

The findings help explain a mystery that has been puzzling economists: the slowdown in the growth even of high-skill jobs. The jobs hit hardest seem to be those that don’t require social skills, throughout the wage spectrum.

‘As I’m speaking with you, I need to think about what’s going on in your head — ‘Is she bored? Am I giving her too much information?’ — and I have to adjust my behavior all the time,’ said David Deming, associate professor of education and economics at Harvard University and author of a new study. ‘That’s a really hard thing to program, so it’s growing as a share of jobs.’

Some economists and technologists see this trend as cause for optimism: Even as technology eliminates some jobs, it generally creates others. Yet to prepare students for the change in the way we work, the skills that schools teach may need to change. Social skills are rarely emphasized in traditional education.

‘Machines are automating a whole bunch of these things, so having the softer skills, knowing the human touch and how to complement technology, is critical, and our education system is not set up for that,’ said Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, where he studies education.

Preschool classrooms, Mr. Deming said, look a lot like the modern work world. Children move from art projects to science experiments to the playground in small groups, and their most important skills are sharing and negotiating with others. But that soon ends, replaced by lecture-style teaching of hard skills, with less peer interaction.

Work, meanwhile, has become more like preschool.

Jobs that require both socializing and thinking, especially mathematically, have fared best in employment and pay, Mr. Deming found. They include those held by doctors and engineers. The jobs that require social skills but not math skills have also grown; lawyers and child-care workers are an example. The jobs that have been rapidly disappearing are those that require neither social nor math skills, like manual labor.”

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