Predicting The Future

As Yogi Berra said, it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future. But as we sit here, squarely in the midst of the chaos that is the Coronavirus, we do need to start thinking about how our current circumstances will play out and what a future after the crisis will look like. Crises don’t last forever, after all, and we can all probably agree that the future isn’t going to look exactly like the past.

Here’s what I expect to see going forward:

Short Term Pain

In the next few months, possibly years, we already know that state and local budgets are going to be hit hard: They generate much of their funding from income and sales taxes, both of which take a pretty big hit when you effectively shut down an economy for two or three months. That’s going to be further complicated by increased need for spending in various areas, such as unemployment and healthcare. Education may not take much of a hit for the 2020-21 cycle, since most budgets have already been set, but you can expect a great impact the following year.

We can also expect lingering changes to the economy after the greatest threat of contagion passes – I don’t know how many people will want to attend crowded events or sit in a packed restaurant, at least until a vaccine becomes available. I expect we’ll be more distant and isolated overall, and that’s going to impact multiple industries for quite a while. It also means more work-from-home arrangements in occupations that can take advantage of that model.

Long Term Gain

According to a Chinese proverb, there is a seed of opportunity in every crisis. And in this case, despite the short-term economic pain, I think there’s the potential for a significant economic upside.

One of the things we’ve realized during this crisis is that a global, just-in-time manufacturing and supply model only works when things are going great. When the Coronavirus hit, most of us were surprised to learn that the things we needed to respond – including medicines and personal protective gear – had been outsourced to other countries years ago, and those countries had an understandable interest in keeping the fruits of their labor for their own citizens, not for ours. Couple that with the realities of a just-in-time manufacturing model that relies on always-available components from multiple countries, which means that manufacturing stops as critical components become unavailable.

I fully expect that this wake-up call is going to create a “Made in the USA” movement, where we bring manufacturing back to this country to reduce our dependence in these kinds of crises. That means jobs in manufacturing, production, assembly, warehousing, and transportation, leading to an industrial renaissance in this country.

What it Means for CTE

While I think CTE, like the rest of the education industry, will feel some short-term funding pain (though hopefully lessened a bit thanks to federal dollars like Perkins), I think the future will be particularly bright. Those in areas like culinary and hospitality will find ways to innovate to accommodate the new reality, while those in areas like manufacturing, logistics, and transportation will thrive and be in greater demand than ever. (This need for domestic production, by the way, will cross industry sector lines – think about areas like healthcare devices as an example of a field where domestic production will be paramount).

I think we’ll also see an even greater emphasis on workplace skills, particularly for occupations amenable to remote work. It takes a great deal of autonomy and self-management to be able to work effectively from home, and employers will be hungry for those who can be self-directed and responsible in those circumstances.

I’d love to hear thoughts from anyone else on these issues – the future is of course unknowable, but the more ideas and perspective you consider when prognosticating, the better your chances at seeing what’s coming down the road.

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

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