I sometimes ask my 8-year old twins what they want to be when they grow up. It’s quite fun to hear their answers. A firefighting ninja BBQ chef. A veterinarian ballerina mom. A YouTube star. What I know as a leader at our state’s flagship university, and as an entrepreneur and CEO, is that they’ll likely hold jobs that don’t even exist right now.

3-D printed food chef. Crypto currency banker. Bio-waste optimizer. Some 85% of jobs in 2030 haven’t been invented and many of the jobs people work today won’t exist by then, according to the Institute for the Future.

It’s exciting, scary and daunting for society’s leaders. How do you plan for roads for autonomous networked cars? How do we look to the future of healthcare, or education when the ground is shifting under us? The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says our children will go through 12 jobs on average in their careers, live much longer than we do now, and may even zip to far-away places without much planning or expense.

Our future will be built around intelligence. Three decades ago, no one owned a computer. Two decades ago, smartphones didn’t exist. The internet didn’t take off until 1990, when Nirvana was at the top of the charts and Dr. Brown yelled at Marty McFly, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Exactly.

It’s time for bold ideas to equip Colorado and our citizens for the bumpy, lightning-fast journey to the job market of the future.

We need to break down the barriers between industry and education. Because schools aren’t successfully building that bridge, industry is being forced to do it for them. Amazon recently announced it would spend $700 million to retrain one-third of its workforce. A recent study that showed fewer than three in 10 employers think that recent college graduates are well prepared for work.

To build this bridge, academic offerings and learning techniques need to be constantly updated with critical input from employers, who can help schools stay abreast of the rapidly changing job market. It’s in both of the Universities and employers’ best interests to collaborate and help prepare students and workers for the fast-approaching future.

We need to change the way we approach hiring. In an interesting twist, companies like Google, Apple and IBM have done away with degree requirements in many positions, instead focusing on experience and skills like problem solving, working in teams and critical thinking. A traditional liberal arts education at a university like CU delivers these skills, but digital badges, micro credentialing and internships are the new resume boosters over degrees. Companies want to hire folks who are committed to lifelong learning, with energy toward continual learning and growth, rather than hiring a specific skill set for a job opening, higher education can play a more robust role in that effort.

We need to help students begin thinking about a career much earlier. I’m not suggesting I put my 8-year-old son in a ninja class that integrates cooking BBQ to help him achieve his dreams — though he would think that was awesome. Helping students carve out a career path much earlier would mean hiring more career counselors in middle and high schools, offering more robust choices for students to take college classes while in high school, and building more internship programs and industry partnerships to give students a chance to “try out” careers before choosing a path.

We need students and families to control their own destiny. This country’s future depends on education that meets the workforce needs of tomorrow. If children can attend a school that meets their needs, studies show they will become adults who can reach their full potential in the workforce.

School choice works. If Colorado’s charter schools were their own state, they would be #1 in 4th grade math and #2 in 4th & 8th grade reading on the NAEP test.

No one knows better than parents and the student themselves what education pathway will best meet their needs. School choice, and a wide variety of schools to choose from, can give all students the education they deserve and the path to a job they love.

Finally, give students more options than a traditional college degree. In 2019, Colorado ranked 2nd for the highest demand of post-secondary credentials at 74% of all jobs. Yet only 64% of each Colorado high school graduating class goes on to obtain some form of post-secondary education. How can we prepare our future workforce? Offer more options. Not every student wants a traditional four-year degree. Apprenticeships and hands-on learning opportunities may match the needs of these students.

It’s time for us to tap into our Western spirit to go big and bold in our approach to reinventing work! Our children are eager and excited to ride the wave of innovation, or pilot their flying car, to an incredible job in the future right here in colorful Colorado.

Heidi Ganahl is a businesswoman, entrepreneur, author and at-large member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, to which she was elected as a Republican in 2016.

Heidi Ganahl is a businesswoman, entrepreneur, author and at-large member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, to which she was elected as a Republican in 2016.

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