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VIII. Reconsidering the Future of Learning, Work and Professional Practice

As William Gibson wrote in The Neuromancer, "The future is already here, it's just not very evenly distributed." We can detect the green shoots of future conditions and practices in today's world of learning, work, and professional practice. However, there are different potential futures to consider. Multiple versions of future realities can exist at the same time, competing for dominance. Successful individuals (including students) and successful organizations (including their universities) must plan to survive in all of the possible futures, not just the future that today is considered the most attractive or philosophically desirable.

As discussed earlier in the section on "Insights from the Environmental Scan," this is an unusually challenging time to attempt to think strategically about the future of the economy, the workforce, and professional practice. In addition to troubling economic news, there has been a series of stories and news flashes about changes in the professions in response to the Great Recession, which will affect student beliefs about what qualifications they should aim for, and what their future could hold (including changes made possible through augmented intelligence).

A provocative bibliography of cases and reflections has been assembled (12) and will be extended throughout the course of the Strategic Planning Process, but especially during the Divergent Thinking Phase (September - December 2012). We expect to draw on resources provided by individual Strategic Working Groups.

Examples of Turmoil in the Economy and Professions

Consider the following set of examples from the recent news, relating to particular professions and industries of interest to University of the Pacific:

  • The marketplaces for routine legal services are changing. A recent article in the New York Times, "Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software," described how the discovery process - largely based on document analysis and comparison - is being automated in ways that have been replacing thousands of legal analysts. Other elements of legal analysis are affected similarly. In response to the Recession, major law firms are streamlining and reinventing practices and some law schools are reconsidering their prevailing model for legal education and progression to practice.

  • Many of the same forces are reinventing the financial services industry. A whole set of realignments in practice are following the Great Recession. The international bank HSBC just announced 30,000 in layoffs worldwide, a pattern being followed by many other banks and financial services. They are finding that the analysis and decision-making in the routine allocation of financial resources can be done with artificial intelligence.

  • The employment structures and skill sets of many high-tech companies are changing as well. Companies like Facebook and Google are essentially networking, computer science and analytics companies. To create the bulk of their substantial market capitalization and valuation, they engage a very small number of exceptionally productive, creative and knowledgeable employees; those staff do the bulk of the top-end knowledge work in the company, and delegate other work as necessary to less-qualified and less capable employees or even to out-sourced staff who may be anywhere in the world. As a result of that mode of working, such companies' need far fewer US graduates overall than earlier generations of Silicon Valley companies based on more tangible products and software.

  • But even the information technology and software services sector is suffering structural shocks. That sector pioneered global outsourcing as a partial response to restrictions on US visas for skilled foreign computer scientists, which has eliminated many domestic positions. Even more ominous is the potential impact of cloud computing to eliminate hundreds of thousands of on-the-ground graduate-level IT jobs in US government agencies, colleges and universities, and commercial enterprises.

  • Engineering, architecture and design has experienced a similar double jolt, first from new and increasingly smart generations of automated design programs and services such as CADCAM, then from outsourcing, which will continue to be a challenge.

  • The Health and Wellness industry will likely continue to be a major growth industry, but many of the new jobs will be lower-paid service jobs. The industry will be under tremendous pressure to deliver better health outcomes at reduced costs. Existing specialties areas in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and allied health fields will find "Value" is the new watchword for the Health and Wellness Industry, which will also include other disciplines, such as business, law, political and social sciences that are not traditionally aligned with health disciplines and professions.

This is part of an ongoing process in which the economy is being "hollowed out." New jobs are coming at the bottom of the economic pyramid, jobs in the middle are being lost to automation and outsourcing, and now US job growth near the top is slowing because of greater use of artificial and augmented intelligence, coupled with non-US relocations of R&D labs and corporate offices.

Michael Spence conducted an analysis of the US Economy in which he discovered that all of the job growth had come in sectors of the "Non-Tradeable Economy," areas having little outsourcing/import competition. These include government, retail, wholesaling, construction, hotels, transportation and education/health care. In these sectors, job growth has been occurring, but incomes have generally not grown. In the "Tradeable Economy" (Business/Financial Services/Consulting, Energy, Minerals, Manufacturing, and Agricultural Products) the number of jobs had decreased due to outsourcing of low- and mid-skilled work. An interesting development is that Education/Health Care, which had traditionally been in the Non-Tradeable Economy, was displaying some characteristics of Tradeability.

In the next decades of the 21st Century, political, economic, and educational leadership will be needed to address these issues. These issues are addressed persuasively by the new book just published by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, That Used to Be Us.

Reconsidering the Liberal Arts in the Digital Age

At the same time as discussion about the professions and economic well-being has been raging, the blogosphere (and publications like The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education have been pulsating with articles, panels, and commentary on the future of the Liberal Arts in the 21st Century. One particular dialogue in The New York Times posed the dichotomy - Career Counselor: Bill Gates or Steve Jobs? - focusing on the debates about specific professional/skills training versus a liberal arts education. Every week seems to bring a fresh round of conversation about how liberal arts education can appeal to 21st century learners, employers, and educational leaders. These issues have shouldered their way into the discourse on the digital public square.

These conversations reveal a strong dedication to the principles and values of a Liberal Education, but a realization that these must evolve in the context of the particular challenges of the 21st Century and the e-Lifestyle that is emerging. A variety of authors have written persuasively on the efforts to sustain and advance the Liberal Arts at a variety of institutions.

Elizabeth Coleman's efforts at Bennington College have been widely published and are the subject of a much-watched presentation at the TED Conference on "What Education Could Be - Must Be. Her essential point is that educators' task is create education experiences that transform learners from mere spectators to self-regulated leaders. "Imagine what could happen if we do it right. Imagine what will happen if we do not. The stakes could not be higher. You are unlikely to have a viable democracy made up of experts, politicians, zealots, and spectators."

Divergent Thinking on the Future of the Professions and Liberal Arts

These dialogues are of great interest to University of the Pacific. In the Divergent Thinking Phase of our Strategic Planning Process, a constellation of Working Groups will debate and consider alternative futures for learning, working, and professional practice. In one category, the Deans and faculty in each school explore the future of their disciplines. By November 18, at the end of their deliberations, they will submit a ten-page summary addressing the following:

  • What forces are shaping your discipline today? What leading indicators and changes are evident?

  • In 10 years, how will forces shape changes in your discipline/profession? How will professional practice be affected?

  • What are the implications of these developments for your discipline/profession and continuous professional development?

  • How should these developments affect University of the Pacific? Our Strategic Planning Process? Decisions over the next five years?

  • What 10-20 key resources have shaped your group's thinking on the future of this discipline?

As discussed earlier, another constellation of Working Groups will address the following issues:

  • The Future of Liberal Learning

  • The Future of Human Health and Well-Being

  • International and Global Futures

  • The University without Borders/Distributed Learning

  • Information, Technology and Learning

  • Next Generation Students

  • Inclusivity and the Future Student

  • Edu-Business: The Business of Higher Education

  • Emerging Careers and Academic Programs

  • Society's Expectations of Higher Education

These Working groups will also submit a ten-page summary of findings by November 18, answering the following questions:

  • What forces are shaping a given cross-cutting issue, today? What leading indicators and changes are evident?

  • In 10 years, how will forces shape changes in this cross-cutting issue? How will work and professional practice be affected?

  • What are the implications of these developments for higher education and continuous professional/personal development?

  • How should these developments affect University of the Pacific? Our Strategic Planning Process? Decisions over the next five years?

  • What 10-20 key resources have shaped your group's thinking on this cross-cutting issue?

A template for the Reports of the Working Groups has been developed to guide their deliberations The materials from all of the Working Groups will be reviewed and commented on by the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) on December 9. The SPC will begin its synthesis and in January 2012 these "futures" presentations will be shared with the University community and serve as input to the Strategic Planning Committee, Strategic Opportunities Working Groups, and the Spring Symposium on strategic choices.

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