Well, that was certainly a year! While it’s always a good idea to use the passing of another year to remember, reflect, and plan, it seems extra important this year. While chaos reigned, lessons were still learned, and significant changes are on the horizon.
The Year of COVID-19
2020 will unequivocally be known as the year of COVID-19. The pandemic tragically took hundreds of thousands of lives, forced untold bankruptcies, disrupted global travel, and impacted our daily lives in how we work, learn, and communicate.
It’s weird to think that at the beginning of 2020 the phrase “social distancing” wasn’t in the American lexicon. Had you worn a mask into a store pre-pandemic, you might have been asked to remove it. We kicked off 2020 talking a lot about change. We discussed how Generation Z’s changing views of college education, confronted the stigmas against community colleges, wondered if the SATs still mattered, and celebrated some diversity “firsts.”
When the country went into full-lockdown mode in early spring, many of us thought it would be temporary, that we’d squirrel ourselves away for a few weeks, then get back to normal. But we’re still here. The world has changed dramatically. However, many of those changes were already on the precipice of happening—the pandemic simply accelerated them.
Changes at Work
The rise of remote work is one of the workplace changes the pandemic has accelerated. The pre-pandemic blog, “A Remote Future” discussed how there had been a 159% increase in remote work between 2014-2017. That amounted to 23% of Americans working remotely pre-pandemic. As of June 2020, 42% of Americans were still working from home, despite most regions of the country entering some stage of reopening. Working remotely is likely a change that’s here to stay even when the pandemic is yesterday’s news.
The effects of the past year will certainly bring about many other changes to the workplace:
- Companies and individuals must be ready to transition to remote or hybrid work at a moment’s notice.
- Organizations are reevaluating how much office space is necessary.
- The rise of video-conferencing means business travel won’t be as prevalent.
- Jobs will become more flexible.
That’s just a sampling. The past year has also helped move along both what we view as “good” or valuable employees, as well as “good” or valuable students.
What Makes a “Good” Student or Employee is Being Redefined
When most schools were forced to close in the spring, “the way we do things” was thrown out the window as educators scrambled to adapt to remote teaching and students to remote learning.
One challenge educators faced was dealing with assessments that were designed for brick-and-mortar settings. Assigning traditional letter grades seemed unfair during remote learning and administering standardized testing was all but impossible.
One of the biggest shifts we may see soon is schools placing less focus on grade point averages and test scores. Instead, we’ll see students be evaluated through mastery learning, student-driven-learning, and project-based learning—styles of learning relying less on the outcomes and more on the process.
Soft or transferrable skills will continue to be increasingly important in evaluating students and employees. Employability will be increasingly favored over credentials. Straight A’s, perfect SAT scores, top-tier connections, and shiny resumes don’t necessarily equip individuals to handle a crisis. What does? Adaptability, problem solving, compassion, and self-awareness.
This pandemic may have provided the necessary push to shift the United States to an actual meritocracy, versus a country pretending to be one. An example of that shift in real time? This New York Times article, asserting that, “30 million American workers without four-year college degrees have the skills to realistically move into new jobs that pay on average 70 percent more than their current ones.”
The pandemic has also exposed the equity issues plaguing our education system. You can't receive a solid education if you can’t access the tools you need to learn.
Cultural Shifts Take Center Stage
2020 will also be remembered as a year of great civil unrest. Protests surrounding racial injustice, mask mandates, and the most contentious US election in history erupted across the country.
These issues can deeply impact the trajectory of an individuals’ life. The ways that we address and haven’t been addressing these cultural issues in both schools and the workplace are in the process of being reexamined.
Many of us have been conditioned to think that having tough conversations in school or work is “impolite.” We hope the changes we’re seeing now mean that in the future not addressing these tough conversations is the impolite move.
What Else Has 2020 Taught Us?
- There's always a “new” normal- Work, life, education, and culture are changing all the time. Sure, this year’s changes were more readily apparent, but think back ten years ago. Things are quite different today than they were then. They’ll be vastly different in five more years. Life is one big series of changes.
- People are resilient- The way our customers have managed a difficult situation to make it work for their students or clients has been impressive. At the end of the day, people are resilient. We wouldn’t still be here if we weren’t.
- College and career readiness means life and future readiness-2020 highlighted the need to give all individuals the ability to be life ready. People like to quip that the only certains in life are death and taxes. You could add “change,” “challenges,” and “the unknown” to that list. 2020 may be behind us, but years of change, challenges, and the unknown remain ahead (we may even bump up against a new “unprecedented time”)—let’s ensure we give all individuals the tools necessary to navigate to success no matter what.