Changing With The Times

A couple of months ago, my wife and I went to a furniture mart in search of a new couch, and boy did we find a great one – a big, comfy, three-seat leather one marked way down thanks to a Memorial Day sale. We decided to buy it on the spot, and that’s where you think this (mundane) story would end.

But the story doesn’t end there – because we have yet to get the couch from the company’s warehouse to its final destination. They told us that based on their experience with the delivery company, we should have had our couch within a week or two; however, because of the driver shortage we’ve since learned about, we’re currently on week seven without so much as an expected delivery date.

This is just one example of the kind of disruption in the economy brought about by the pandemic. Remember the toilet paper shortage last year? Have you heard about Taco Bell and other restaurants not being able to procure needed ingredients? Are you aware of the chip shortage that’s affecting nearly every tech producer, from computers to cars? There are actually several areas experiencing shortages at this point, and the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, which keeps tabs on current business conditions, is filled with reports of shortages in labor, raw materials, and equipment. And no one really knows how all of this is going to get resolved in the future.

What does this have to do with education? Plenty.

Our schools talk about preparing young people for their futures; however, the overriding focus over the past 40 years or so has been on preparing for their academic future specifically. However, we at NC3T believe the focus should properly be on preparation for career and life readiness, with the academic focus included in both of these. Many young people will not need a four-year degree to pursue and succeed in the fields of their choice; all students, on the other hand, need to be able to have an informed vision and a plan for their futures, and all will need the skills to live self-sufficiently.

In light of the situation, I detailed above, it’s the self-sufficiency – the “life” in “career and life readiness” – that I’m concerned with here. When you think about the aforementioned shortages, they mean that some things are going to be unavailable, and that others will increase in cost – and that will have a major impact on the lives of young people.

Think about a young person faced with rising costs and select unavailability of food. Wouldn’t they be better off saving money by cooking at home rather than going to a restaurant? If there are shortages, shouldn’t they have enough culinary experience to know what things can be used as substitutes? Going further, wouldn’t it be great if they had some gardening skills to be less reliant on a disrupted food system?

Then there’s the chip shortage. If a new or used car is going to be harder to buy, wouldn’t it be smart to be able to do basic repairs and maintenance on their current vehicles?

And, if labor shortages are in play, wouldn’t it be good to have some basic skills to do things around the house, like changing out a light switch or unclogging a drain, so you don’t have to hunt for a handyman?

None of this is to denigrate the importance of academic performance. But unless our students are going to literally live in an ivory tower, it’s more important than ever to make sure they have the practical, functional life skills that we all need to live in today’s world.

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of the National Center for College and Career (NC3T) ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance, and tools. These strategies help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.