Leveraging Technology to Prepare our Students for the Changing Nature of Work
When students sit down in our offices and declare with apprehensive defiance that they “don’t want to work in a cubicle” they are communicating both a longing for “something more” than workplace confinement and also worry that their longing may be unrealistic in the workplace. This disconnect between the very mobile, virtual, agile workplace of today and students perceptions of cubicle confinement (and perhaps creative and spiritual confinement) reflects the challenge we all experience in keeping pace with the technologies driving change in the way we do our work.
Here is a sample of some products that are revolutionizing the workplace. Test your knowledge by indicating the technologies you are familiar with and then click submit to get your results.
What do these technologies all have in common? They were innovated in the Bay Area (more than 50% of which were founded in the last 6 years) and they are representative of technologies that are rapidly changing the nature of work across the globe as communities, collaborations, and skill-building turn virtual.
The Institute of the Future, a non-profit organization in Palo Alto dedicated to researching trends into the future in areas such as work and higher education, highlights five characteristics of what they call the “amplified individual” at work. Amplified individuals use technologies to expand their capabilities by drawing on the collective intelligence of others.
Applications for the Jesuit University in Silicon Valley
Given the startling reality that the average lifespan of a company in the S&P 500 index of leading US companies is now 15 years (compared to 67 years in the 1920’s, Innosight Executive Briefing 2012), these technologies can be leveraged to educate our students for an entrepreneurial mindset – to teach our students to be resourceful, creative, independent thinkers, savvy with tools for virtual collaboration, and able to respond to changes in industry with agility and curiosity.
We can use these technologies to prepare students to engage in work for the common good.
We can use these technologies to provide “blended learning” opportunities in which a physical location is not always the pre-requisite for learning and skill development.
As career counselors, we can educate for the responsible use of these technologies so that we do not lose sight of nurturing our students’ spirit and attending to their developing sense of self and vocation.
By virtue of living in Silicon Valley in the 21st century, none of us is immune from what T.S. Elliot described in his poem Burnt Norton, published in 1936, as “strained time-ridden faces distracted from distraction by distraction.” We know what it’s like to feel scattered somewhere between the tabs on our computer - a computer click away from Gmail or Facebook, or a swift tap between applications on our phone. Under these conditions, it takes considerable intentionality to attend inwardly before we pursue technology to move our inspiration forward.
William James writes in The Principles of Psychology, “[T]he faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will…An education which would improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”
Before we go virtual, the career counseling process involves helping our students attend to their own, not yet articulated knowing – their unfolding sense of their interests and talents, the seedlings of their longings, the places where their inspiration fires. The discernment needed to be whole in the workplace and to be able to sustain the concentration that William James calls for, begins with inward attention to those places where technology would only be a hindrance.
In the book, The Heart of Higher Education; A Call to Renewal, Parker Palmer writes “…[In] higher education we have become so enamored of technology that we forget about the power of those person-to person, face-to-face ‘live encounters’ that animate the human spirit in a way nothing else can. High tech can supplement and amplify ‘high touch,’ but it can never replace it.”
A Jesuit education can provide the balance needed for our graduates to leverage technologies to move their unfolding sense of vocation forward.