Never Say Retire

Comments (2)

Bruce Kern is getting set to retire from running the East Bay Economic Development Alliance. (He's a player behind the scenes whose name pops up around East Bay coups like Tesla, Solyndra and Bayer). What's the biggest change he's seen over 20 years?  The speed of change itself. That is to say, most people working today face disruptive change, no matter what field of endeavor they engage in. He's not just talking about those fields that go "poof!"

Kern argues it's time for a seismic shift in the way we perceive - and fund - education; that people should expect to go back to school repeatedly, throughout their adult lives. To pay for this, he's suggesting something like a 401k for retraining. It would be portable, and each employer would pay into it, along with the employee.

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What do you think about Kern's proposal?

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About Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow hosts the California Report for KQED. Over 17 years in public radio, she's worked for Marketplace and KPCC, filed for NPR and The World, and developed a sizable tea collection that's become the envy of the KQED newsroom. She specializes in politics, economics and history in California - but for emotional balance, she also covers food and its relationship to health and happiness.

Comments (2)

  1. Ben Kovitz says:

    Having been in graduate school the last two years, and having gone there during my “adult life”, I see a big problem: college education is pretty ineffective. They’re still doing the lectures-and-exams approach to teaching, the top priority is still second-guessing what the professor wants you to memorize in order to get a grade, the schedule is too chopped up and hurried for significant learning to take place, and many professors simply lack practical knowledge. If you want to catch up with a fast-changing field like software engineering, spending one to four years in college will only put you further behind.

    However, this problem could surely be fixed. Formal education is in for a disruptive change itself. I think nearly everyone who isn’t part of the formal education system can see this. The main questions are how to get the juggernaut started and how to fund it—just the sort of problem for a few entrepreneurially minded people to tackle.

    A 401(k)-like program is probably premature right now. Education has to prove that it’s worth something first. The better solution for keeping up with technology might simply be to take a low-paying job and get mentoring from people with more experience. Historically, I think apprenticeship has always been much more effective than schools, and unlike schools, apprenticeship pays *you*.

    Another solution that has been cropping up is time allocated on the job for learning. Small, specialist businesses have been teaching short seminars to employees (without grades!). A few large businesses (e.g. Google, 3M) have been allocating a certain amount of time each week for employees to use to follow their curiosity as they please. A wild one that has been growing rapidly is hackspaces: cheap places where you chip in a little for rent, and you can hang around with both the tools and people who know, love, and love talking about the science and technology. Many hackspaces offer free or inexpensive classes in everything from Linux system administration to metal shop.

    Small approaches like these might deliver better results for less money than formal education ever could. Only time will tell.

  2. Curtis says:

    I find that the most successful people I work with have certain common attributes like a strong grasp of fundamentals, good problem-solving skills, physical intuition, and excellent communication skills both written and verbal, none of which grow obsolete in spite of the pace of change. Do our schools teach these well?

    I think joining a small company and working there for several years in various positions might be the modern-day equivalent of an apprenticeship. The difference between people with this type of experience and those who stay within large, stable companies which drive specialization very early in a career is remarkably pronounced. In a large company, it’s often too difficult to assess the effect of one’s efforts; this makes learning difficult.

    I also think that a PhD in the sciences and engineering can be a very effective apprenticeship, depending on the quality of the advisor. Plus, they pay you for it! Compare that to a law degree or MBA. But this observation hardly applies to the majority.

    Changing companies every 4-5 years is also a good way to drive professional renewal and build up from basics again. It forces you to reassess what it is that you really accomplished, evaluate what it is that you do well, test your professional worth in a competitive market, study what the marketplace really needs, and sell yourself properly. But can you institutionalize this?