I feel like waxing poetic about the glories of springtime.
To people in some parts of the world, this burst of enthusiasm might seem a bit tardy — days, maybe even weeks behind their first apple blossom or robin sighting. After all, it’s already May.
But those of us in the Midwest who’ve braved things like the polar vortex of 2014 and other vagaries of winter don’t take the warm breezes of spring for granted until we’re sure they’re here to stay. Having lived through our share of April snowstorms and icy opening days at the ballpark, we know that nature doesn’t always follow the calendar and the seasons aren’t always on schedule.
What’s worrisome, however, is that this unpredictability is getting more acute. When the World Economic Forum issued its “Global Risks 2014” report at the end of 2013, extreme weather events and climate change were listed among the top five risks the world faces in 2014. With growing acceptance of global warming, that probably doesn’t surprise you.
But here’s something that might take you aback. Among the other risks at the top of the list was “structurally high rates of unemployment and underemployment.” It ranked second overall as so many people in both advanced and emerging economies struggle to find jobs.
The report focused specifically on the young and minorities who are especially vulnerable, with unemployment and underemployment a persistent problem for the generation entering the workforce. In a section titled “Generation Lost?” the report stated:
“The generation coming of age in the 2010s faces high unemployment and precarious job situations, hampering their efforts to build a future and raising the risk of social unrest. In advanced economies, the large number of graduates from expensive and outmoded educational systems — graduating with high debts and mismatched skills — points to a need to adapt and integrate professional and academic education. In developing countries, an estimated two-thirds of the youth are not fulfilling their economic potential. The generation of digital natives is full of ambition to improve the world but feels disconnected from traditional politics; their ambition needs to be harnessed if systemic risks are to be addressed.”
The report makes it clear that someone needs to do something about this situation, and that someone is us. Any mandate to “adapt and integrate professional and academic education” is a direct challenge to the learning and development industry — a challenge to make whatever changes are necessary to help mitigate the economic, political and social risks of having too many people not working or not working up to their potential.
President Barack Obama issued similar marching orders in his State of the Union address in January. He said the “cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by, let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”
Then he exhorted the business community to reverse these trends, not only by working to speed up growth and create more jobs but also by making sure “that every American has the skills to fill those jobs.” His and Vice President Joe Biden’s efforts to reform America’s training programs will have one mission — to “train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs” that set them on an “upward trajectory for life.”
We all have a stake in that mission. But those in the learning industry are in the best position to actually instigate and implement much of the change it mandates.
Bringing the discussion back to my original musings, Mark Twain once famously remarked, “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” We may not be able to dictate the exact arrival date of spring. But learning organizations do have a direct say in how well business and government organizations integrate training and development initiatives with real-life employee needs, aptitudes, potential and dreams of future success.
Let’s do something about it.