The Future of Work?

A lifelong career as an opportunity to “earn and learn and earn and learn”: for many, this was the primary takeaway of Dr. Michelle Weise’s presentation at All-School Meeting (ASM) last Friday.

Weise, a specialist in preparing the workforce for the jobs of the future, spoke to Andover on what our technologically evolving society— where the first people to live to the age of 150 have already been born—means for employment, career paths, and the ever-changing job market.

Weise explained that most Americans now only find employment security on their third job, and that early specialization does not necessarily guarantee a future career in a specific field.

She urged students to view their careers as a lifelong opportunity for learning and emphasized that gaining employable skills came from multiple aspects of life beyond the workplace or academe.

For many, this message resonated. But for others, it fell flat. At Andover, a school with both a socioeconomically diverse student body and a history of elitism, conversations around worklife and career are complex. Students come to Andover from a host of different backgrounds, and leave Andover to a similar variety of careers. But while Andover provides resources for students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds, wide socioeconomic disparities still underscore life here, and some students felt that Weise’s presentation did not acknowledge those forces.

Weise pointed out that starting jobs often indicate long-term career growth—higherpaying first jobs lead to higher-paying jobs in the long run, whereas lower-paying ones largely do not. But many students felt that Weise’s presentation framed selecting starting jobs with higher versus lower pay rates as a choice, neglecting the socioeconomic factors that often dictate whether individuals begin their careers in higher or lower-paying jobs.

Moreover, one recurring theme throughout Weise’s presentation was that of longer careers, spurred by rapid technological innovation.

Weise joked at the beginning of her talk that when she tells others that in the future, we may have to work for 100 years as a result of lengthened lifespans, they exclaim: “just kill me now!” Indeed, for our cohort of most-midterm, pre-penultimate week students, many might have felt the same way (certainly for Seniors: on October 28, applicants were four days away from early decision college deadlines).

For the past few years, youth perceptions of capitalism has been declining—as of 2018, only 45 percent of Americans aged 18-29 held a positive view of capitalism, a 12-point decline since 2016, according to Gallup. Exacerbated by pandemic economic instability, conversations around burnout, our relationships to work have taken a larger role in our cultural mainstream. For many, in light of these conversations, Weise’s presentations reminded them of the endless slog associated with modern work culture—a losing race against the rapid development of society and technology, when these manmade institutions were designed to serve our needs in the first place.

At Andover, students and adults alike often express that they feel overloaded with work, that they are burnt out, or that they are seeking to strike a fairer balance between work and life. As our term comes to a close in these next two weeks, Dr. Weise’s talk may be the last thing on our minds. We will likely be thinking of history papers and math tests over future careers and job markets. But we should continue reflecting on Weise’s message. Whether we appreciated it, critiqued it, felt reassured because of it, or felt demoralized by it, our thinking will shape our conception of work, socioeconomic forces, and technology in our society. Hopefully, these conversations will allow us to sharpen what we hope to see in our future of work—one that addresses social inequality and allows us to envision more expansive and radical changes to our current job economy.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, Vol. CXLV.