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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

How This Educator Is Helping Youth Become Successful In A New Era

Is your school preparing youth for the 21st-century skills they need? Although there are some incredible schools out there that are changing direct right now, many public school districts are still teaching the same material in the same way. We have incredible educators who want to become more innovative, and unfortunately, the way our system is currently run, it can become one of the heaviest changes to make.

As a result of constant advancements in technology, and especially now—with an unknown direction of the globalizing economy, the future workforce will demand unique skill sets that most of our school system is currently unprepared to accommodate. 

As we’re watching live at this moment, many schools and universities are struggling to create distance learning programs in these most unusual circumstances. To no fault of their own, nobody was prepared for such extreme changes overnight.

Given the unexpected turn of events in only two weeks, we now have an inside look at various industries, and can see where some of the greatest needs and wins arise.

Not only do we lack technically skilled workers for an unknown and changing job market, but the skills in demand for current occupations are increasing and evolving. 

The World Economic Forum reports, “Technological disruptions such as robotics and machine learning—rather than completely replacing existing occupations and job categories are likely to substitute specific tasks previously carried out as part of these jobs. Technology can free workers up to focus on new tasks, and lead to rapidly changing core skill sets in these occupations.” 

World over, the most in-demand skills are social and emotional in nature. These skills can include behaviors such as active listening, persuasion, emotional intelligence, communication and especially compassion.

Young people can learn various personal skills through project-based learning, practice, and discovery. They can also build on their essential creative skills such as problem-solving, innovating, and critical thinking. 

These skills will be in high demand across all industries.

I recently spoke with education expert, Katrina Salazar, about the problem regarding the skills and resources young people are missing for setting up successful lives.

Salazar is the CEO and founder of WeThink, a data-driven company that has defined 33 critical target skills in eight neighborhoods that have the potential to improve life outcomes. 

To improve student outcomes, Salazar uses gaming platforms that have very high engagement rates. By using games, They can assess, analyze, and improve a child’s proficiency in these areas.

WeThink has eight people on their core team, plus ten more consultants and partners. They are working with eight schools in Los Angeles, and are raising their seed round now.

Robyn Shulman: Can you tell me when you created your company?

Katrina Salazar: I launched weThink as a C corp officially in November of 2018. However, I have been working on the method and research since 2015. 

Shulman: What was the motivation behind creating weThink?

Salazar: I was bothered by a problem I saw at an early age—our cities, our societies are only as smart or successful as the people who live in them. And yet, we don’t focus on building the foundational skills that help humans be the most successful, and overcome all sorts of barriers. 

We have pretty arbitrary and skewed metrics by which we measure success, particularly in the K-12 space and arguable well beyond.

Shulman: How are you first addressing this problem?

Salazar: I want to help our definition and system of education evolve. I believe it must, and I think we must build better humans, and not just expect them to be magically equipped one day with a set of skills we didn’t bother to teach them. 

Shulman: How do you plan on solving this issue?

Salazar: School doesn’t prepare people for the rapidly evolving demands of the job market. We’re just not teaching the sort of skills that allow students to become self-learners, and we are not teaching these students to be agile enough even to identify what they need to learn. 

Shulman: How do we address this issue?

Salazar: We need to put more concentrated effort into assessing and developing social and emotional skills in our school systems. We don’t have a useful metric for those sorts of things. It is challenging to develop these skills meaningfully if there is no metric for it. That is a large part of our mission at WeThink. 

Shulman: Tell me more about automating jobs. What are your thoughts on the topic?

Salazar: The more we automate jobs, the less need we will have for unskilled workers. We will require fewer humans to fill roles within our organizations, and the roles that exist now can become increasingly complex. 

Shulman: This is a concerning issue. Can you elaborate?

Salazar: This a huge problem because our school system is not currently tasked with generating future job candidates who are thinking of working in increasingly complex and innovative ways.

Shulman: How do we address this need?

Salazar: We cannot postpone the consideration of these skills until post-secondary school. These skills have to be taught early on in the education process as they are essential building blocks for a successful career in the ever-changing workforce. 

Teaching these skills throughout the k12 educational process will give our students this foundation that they can build upon, and will increase their capacity to adapt to new challenges that they may encounter. 

Shulman: What is one of your favorite industries right now?

Salazar: I would say it’s cybersecurity. It’s a great example of what the future brings—the role of a person working in cybersecurity changes every day because technology is continuously evolving. 

Shulman: How do you prepare somebody for a role that’s changing every day? 

Salazar: Everything that we’re interacting now is changing daily, so you can’t rely on rules-based role training, because you’re always a step behind. 

However, you can develop a human’s ability to think probabilistically, agilely, and in persistent ways. Starting young, we can cause a great love of learning while encouraging curiosity. 

If we build habits around these skills early in the education process, particularly in middle school and in high school, then we are setting our future workforce and society up for success. 

Shulman: Let’s go back to your company, what were two challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

Salazar: The number one problem I ran into was raising money. The minute you tell people you’re working in the education space, they tell you how noble you are and run. 

Shulman: Money and education are two words that are hard to put into a sentence, correct?

Salazar: Yes, I am still overcoming this challenge, but I’ve learned the hard way to focus on aligned values and mission. It keeps me focused, and saves time and my sanity. 

Shulman: What about your second challenge?

Salazar: I think my second challenge was learning to work with different school districts. I faced this problem early. I’ve been in the education space before, but most of my experience was not in the public sector. Back in 2015, when I embarked on this endeavor, I quickly pulled onboard some experienced advisors and team members—which saved me from making some costly mistakes. 

Shulman: What are three pieces of advice you would give to aspiring education entrepreneurs?

Salazar: These are my top three tips for aspiring education entrepreneurs.

  • Talk to everyone who will lay hands on your product before it’s the product you think it ought to be. In education, this can be a lot of stakeholders with very different ideas and needs like educators, students, and admins. 
  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Find supportive early adopters for a good version, and don’t wait until it’s perfect. 
  • If you have not worked in the education space before, find someone who has that will work closely with you.

Shulman: I love the second statement, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” I think many of us tend to do hold back before perfect—don’t wait.

You can follow Salazar’s work at her website WeThink for more information.


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