Predictions For What Education and Employment Disruption Actually Looks Like

Burn the Ladder
10 min readMar 31, 2016


The winds of change.

“Every revolution was once a thought in one man’s mind, and when the same thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era.” — Emerson

The future of work and learning are integrally linked, in ways you aren’t expecting. Here are 12 ways we will see that transpire, in predicted order of mainstream dissemination.

WARNING: Although it is in listicle format, this is a long, hearty post. Be forewarned.

  1. Decentralization of Higher Education — Like the disruption of the music industry when consumers no longer had to purchase an entire album in order to listen to their favorite single, the education industry has decentralized. While many subjects are complementary and/or cumulative, the ability to pick and choose ‘a la carte’ learning experiences digestible within a short time frame is quietly changing the face of education. Future learning will take place in academic institutions, online and off, peer-to-peer, in self organized learning groups, through job skills centric programs, at your company’s in house “university,” using video games, aided by artificial intelligence and augmented reality, and eventually using virtual reality. Beyond the technological development, the primary obstacles to widespread adoption of these offerings as a standalone educational option are two fold: it is difficult to translate a diverse set of achievements from multiple sources into a widely accepted employment credential and people aren’t great at self-managing a curriculum, in which learning objectives are completed in the absence of externally imposed deadlines or structure. Look to the MacArthur Foundation’s Open Badging spin off LRNG to be an early player in resolving both of these obstacles, by injecting social media savvy into educational playlists of skills badges for youth who want to develop and demonstrate job competencies directly linked with available jobs.
  2. White Collar Vocational Training — Young people take on massive student loan debt because they have been told that college=job, which leads to a false sense of security about employability upon obtaining a degree. The equation only works when you develop in-demand job skills, many of which are simply not taught at 4-year universities. While the liberal arts model is an incredibly profound tool in teaching people critical thinking (e.g. how to think, rather than what to think), this type of knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient for job seekers. Many youth do not have the convenience of selecting a program that does not make them immediately employable after graduation, which begs the question of value of a college degree as the sole preparation for employment. In the meantime, organizations like General Assembly, Exosphere, and coding boot camps are bridging the skills gap between college education and available work opportunities. The either/or debate between liberal arts and vocational training is something of a red herring, and we will likely witness greater hybridization of the two, in which people combine traditional liberal arts education with skills specific micro degrees/credentials, and hands-on work experience. As we are able to recognize/credential learning as it happens in real life situations, there should be a reduction in simulated learning, which would make the process more efficient.
  3. Skills and Competency Based Hiring– Current hiring relies upon a number of vague predictive indicators like years of experience, institution attended, and GPA, resulting in a perceived skills gap from talent pools. People who are good at interviewing and applying for jobs get roles instead of people who are actually good at the work. More explicit skills requirements and demonstrations, along with advancement in micro credentialing capabilities and digital portfolios, will enable job candidates to efficiently show (rather than tell) their capabilities. The Rockefeller Foundation has a horse in this race, having committed resources to competency-based hiring. Meanwhile, Sony is developing a block chain supported education and testing platform[1] to make records easily accessible, verifiable, and official, simplifying life for hiring managers.
  4. Employers as Educational Institutions — The rote memorization and ability to follow direction that is taught in our schools served factory workers well, became less valuable in the knowledge economy, and is becoming virtually worthless as machines are able to hold that information and follow instructions far better than people can. Although the world of work has dramatically changed, our educational system has not, resulting in a large gap between what schools teach and what businesses hire for. In response, we are now witnessing some of the biggest and most innovative companies in the world explore micro credentials as a strategy for training and recognizing essential work skills in job candidates. An example of this is the Google partnership with Udacity[2] to create developer nanodegrees. Don’t be surprised to see the integration of work-related skills training taking place through partnerships between educators and businesses or industries, which enable employers to have a direct say in skills applicants are developing while simultaneously providing credibility, users, and content for online educators.
  5. Challenges and Prizes As Educational and Work Experience — Challenges democratize skills demonstration, giving participants space to “figure it out,” regardless of experience or education. They act as a spotlight on critical skills that impact the success of an organization or city, enable challenge-based learning, encourage non-traditional voices to speak up, foster an environment of self-empowerment, and allow people to test their competencies in the context that they are utilized. This tool works in various arenas; legislation enables all U.S. government agencies to use innovation challenges, the use of which has also resulted in revolutionary breakthroughs in space flight, aviation, food storage, and various other fields. They can also take the form of ideas competitions, like the Pitt Innovation Challenge at the U Pitt Medical School, used to help transform clinical and translational science into better public health outcomes. More universities, businesses, and public agencies will explore prize platforms like X PRIZE offspring Hero X as a way to drive innovation. With more challenges being launched, and greater populations of people using them to build out a portfolio of work, hiring managers will be able to use (and potentially create) these challenges to identify potential hires, as well as shake up internal promotion practices and/or tenure tracks.
  6. Transparency — The past belongs to IP protection, privacy, NDA’s, and firewalls, but information wants to be free. This year we have seen that the future is transparent, either by choice or by force. As Sony and Ashley Madison can attest, hackers, information breeches, and other “reveals” can have dramatic impacts on your company’s reputation and bottom line. Open source, open API, and crowd sourced offerings provide an opportunity to tap into unknown pockets of talent, to increase diversity of thought, and create greater engagement and trust with a wider audience, internally and externally. One area that will probably benefit from greater transparency is pay, and with businesses publicly sharing salary rates and ranges, improvements in pay equity are likely. Additionally, given the tremendous potential for combining crowd sourced information and deep machine learning, particularly transparent companies may benefit greatly by sharing their data.
  7. On Demand Workforces For Various Fields/Industries — Contractor based labor forces like those offered by Uber and Postmates are currently in vogue. While the workforce sustainability, ethics, and legalities of this employment model are being debated in the courts, it is unlikely that it will completely disappear, as it offers increased scheduling autonomy and income supplements for workers, as well as decreased fixed costs and improved workforce flexibility for the employer. Rather than putting an end to the on-demand model, these legal (and political) battles could improve worker’s bargaining power, ensuring more stable wages, benefits, and health coverage for these segments of the workforce. Improving labor conditions would result in more widespread adoption of on-demand employment beyond “blue collar” jobs, potentially extending to all kinds of roles. Apps like Liquid Talent, which make meaningful connections between freelance workers and businesses, improve the process for both parties, and eliminate some of the risk for independent workers in creative or technical fields. And, as organizations become more transparent, its possible that consortiums of businesses develop, in which employees with transferable credentials can provide on-demand services for industries that require seasonal build up like retail or hospitality.
  8. Self Organization — As businesses attempt to adapt to the constantly shifting competitive landscape through attracting and retaining top talent, we are seeing the (re) emergence of self-organized work models. Online retailer Zappos has been the highest profile adopter of the self-organization model[3], experimenting with various aspects of self-management including linking digital skills badges to roles, creating a role marketplace, and developing infrastructure to support self-directed career pathways. When firms begin to explore aspects of this organization model, they do so with employees who have never had any sense of personal agency, let alone almost full discretion as to the development and execution of their educational and career pathways, necessitating an additional ecosystem of educators (of whom yours truly is one) to teach the skills needed for self management success. While a lot of the public conversation about self-management has centered on controversial first mover Holacracy, other entrants to the space will iterate on ways to support a self-organized work force.
  9. Reduction In # Of Bottom Tier Universities — Students are simultaneously the consumer and the commodity offered by college brands. School funding keeps being cut at the state level and enrollment keeps increasing, meaning education is becoming more expensive and the quality can’t be maintained in a standardized way, which makes degrees even less valuable. As the diminishing value proposition of college as work preparation becomes more evident, and in light of the increased competition by white-collar job training, we witness many expensive private universities struggle to attract attendees and potentially shut down. Top tier universities providing networking opportunities among the social and business elite, innovative research programs, large endowments, and other differentiating factors justifying a high price tag, will remain unscathed. Watch for more established universities to partner with smaller, more focused organizations, like the partnership between elite university startup Minerva[4] and the Keck Graduate Institute, to reinvent the higher education experience. These partnerships will aid innovative, small, new players in accreditation and other barriers to scale, while enabling innovation in larger, more established institutions.
  10. Hire Education — Currently there is a large barrier between our careers, learning, and personal life (which typically takes a back seat to the worker or student personas we wear each day). This disconnect has left us simultaneously unable to meet the needs of the labor market and completely miserable in the process. As educators begin expanding content to include more internally focused subject matter, intrinsic motivations like that of one’s Ikigai will play a larger role in career path selection. People will learn with the context for how their knowledge can be linked to a meaningful career and life, and will become more valuable workers and fulfilled individuals by continually learning new skills based on the real situations and challenges they face. Finding satisfaction in their jobs, they will do better work.
  11. Elimination of Jobs Without a “Human Element”- Historically, eliminated jobs have been replaced by new ones we did not anticipate and while this phenomenon will almost certainly continue, we must face the reality that machine deep learning/AI, robotics, and other exponential technologies eventually stand to replicate most (if not all) of human capability. Both blue collar industries like factory work and transportation, as well as white collar roles like financial and legal services, face the potential mass automation of jobs[5] and it is extremely difficult to predict exactly which jobs will pop up in their place. As machines become a more affordable option than low wage workers abroad, off-shored work will likely be re-shored, and for a period of time some of the most valuable employment skills will be the oversight and interpretation of work that various machines are doing. Narrow AI is easier to develop than general AI, so it is reasonable to predict that jobs that involve single defined tasks and rote memorization will be replaced more rapidly than ones that involve things like creativity, empathy, adaptability, or synthesis of various elements.
  12. Universal Basic Income — As machine learning improves and changes knowledge work, 3d printing disrupts manufacturing, robotics replaces manual work, and other exponential technologies impact other core industries, we will see an unprecedented pace of worker displacement. One potential solution to this dystopian scenario has made strange bedfellows out of social democrats and libertarians, who are both closely following Universal Basic Income (UBI) experiments. UBI is a mechanism of ensuring that all individuals have a set amount of money each month for their basic expenses, whether through direct payments or regressive taxes. Current UBI experiments are taking place in progressive countries Finland and the Netherlands, where the existing social programs come with great administrative costs and potentially offer disincentives for people to seek employment. The argument goes, that by removing the stigma attached with social safety net programs like welfare or unemployment, people may be more likely to use this financial net to engage in activities that are value adding to society (i.e. elder care, child care, volunteering, the arts, etc.). Further, given that the basic income will not make anyone rich, most people will choose to continue working in some capacity. People like Sjir Hoeijmakers, a Dutch man who crowd funded his own basic income for a year to research UBI, are working with local governments like the city of Utrecht to explore how UBI works beyond the theoretical model. There is talk in Amsterdam of a basic income for entrepreneurs. The results of these experiments could have a dramatic impact on how we solve the future employment challenge. Like self-organization, however, the success of UBI is dependent upon people learning intrinsic motivation — namely, how does one go about figuring out what to do with oneself in the absence of a boss, manager, or teacher providing that direction. This further underscores the need for educational programs and content aimed at developing these skills demanded by the future.








Burn the Ladder

Ikigai, Self-Management, Future of Work, Learning, System Disruption, Incentive Competitions, and Other Contrarianisms by Kacy Qua.