Mend the Gap: The Opportunity for Associations in “the Other 50 Years”

I’ve argued in various places (including the Webinar I delivered last week for Engage365) that the average adult is not particularly well-prepared to engage in the level of effective lifelong learning required by the learning economy in which we now live and work.

We enter “the other 50 years” – those that follow the first 22 years, in which most of us receive some level of formal education – not necessarily knowing well how to “learn, relearn and unlearn” as futurist Alvin Toffler put it. Arguably, this has always been true, but the speed and scale of change in our hyper-connected world has made it an issue that is more important than ever to address.

As Bill Eggers, John Hagel and Owen Sanderson – all sharp people – argue in a recent HBR Blog Network article titled Mind the (Skills) Gap, address it we must if we expect to thrive in the coming decades. As they put it:

Today, individuals must constantly hone and enhance their skills to remain relevant in the workforce. As a society, we must figure out how to rapidly re-skill vast number of people on an ongoing basis to both remain relevant globally and to avoid long periods of high unemployment. Adapting to this cycle of obsolescence is perhaps America’s biggest challenge in staying competitive.

Eggers, Hagel, and Sanderson suggest a number of solutions, and name some of the innovators I’ve mention before on this blog or Mission to Learn: Khan Academy, CodeAcademy, School of Everything, and others. I noticed, however, that one part of the solution they do not mention is trade and professional associations.

Shame on them, to a certain extent, that they do not highlight institutions that have always been a critical part of supporting “the other 50 years.” Clearly, when it comes to refreshing, retooling, and acquiring entirely new skills, associations are an invaluable – and generally undervalued – part of our education system.

But shame, also, on associations. As far as I can tell, we do not yet seem to be offering much of a voice in the public conversation about the growing skill (and knowledge) gap and the critical need for effective lifelong learning.

Yes, the work of meetings and professional development programs marches on – admirably so – but where is the bigger vision? Where are the leaders articulating the challenge and seizing the opportunity? We’re rambling on about “relevance” when there is arguably nothing that has ever made us more relevant – assuming we choose to act accordingly.

I am, of course, just a sample of one, but I do pay a lot of attention to this sort of thing. I suppose the HBR article hit a nerve that was already exposed. So, what do you think? If you feel you have evidence that I am off base on this, please share it – I welcome it. If you sense a similar lack of vision, share that as well – along with what you think needs to happen.


P.S. February 28, 2013 – I wrote this post a while back, but decided to pin it back to the home page because I noticed Jack McGrath has recently done a good job articulating a vision for “the gap” over on the YourMembership blog. I encourage you to read Can Associations Bridge the Skills Gap for Their Members.

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