Above is a depictional representation of the general mismatch between higher educational offerings the (primary cluster which is presented right of center to which most lines appear to converge) and to the left domains of various professional fields. There is a general disconnect.

The abstract of this Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (“PNAS”) from which this depiction was lifted states:

Rapid research progress in science and technology (S&T) and continuously shifting workforce needs exert pressure on each other and on the educational and training systems that link them. Higher education institutions aim to equip new generations of students with skills and expertise relevant to workforce participation for decades to come, but their offerings sometimes misalign with commercial needs and new techniques forged at the frontiers of research. Here, we analyze and visualize the dynamic skill (mis-)alignment between academic push, industry pull, and educational offerings, paying special attention to the rapidly emerging areas of data science and data engineering (DS/DE). The visualizations and computational models presented here can help key decision makers understand the evolving structure of skills so that they can craft educational programs that serve workforce needs. Our study uses millions of publications, course syllabi, and job advertisements published between 2010 and 2016. We show how courses mediate between research and jobs. We also discover responsiveness in the academic, educational, and industrial system in how skill demands from industry are as likely to drive skill attention in research as the converse. Finally, we reveal the increasing importance of uniquely human skills, such as communication, negotiation, and persuasion. These skills are currently underexamined in research and undersupplied through education for the labor market. In an increasingly data-driven economy, the demand for “soft” social skills, like teamwork and communication, increase with greater demand for “hard” technical skills and tools.

Within the article a rhetorical question is posed which seems to capture the overarching concern: What balance of timely vs. timeless knowledge should [we, as as a society] teach?

Without an educational cannon, how are we ever going to be able to relate to one another beyond perhaps: “It’s a nice day.”

The benefits of a cannon of knowledge allows for us to not only relate to one another casually, but also to have the richness of a “conceptual language” with which to analogize.

By way of further explaining this concept, consider our use of acronyms – like “PNAS” above.

The equivalent concept of the acronym – shorthand for the name of an organization in this case – in Chinese can represent a rich story.

The reason for this is that almost every character in chinese is a fully encapsulated concept – i.e. word.

So then, the four characters “Straddle, Tigger, Difficult, Dismount” colorfully can be drawn out as a story in which someone essentially ‘caught the tiger by the tail’ and couldn’t let go lest they be attacked specifically or more generally that ‘once you get started on a perilous course, it’s exceedingly difficult to walk away unhurt.’

Now. on the flip side of the coin. Being able to relate to everyone, but not having any specialized skill or skills beyond that also falls far short of the mark.

Various industries, which have a composite of those skills are represented generally along the left. So there is a mismatch.

What a general liberal arts education provides is an overarching base of general knowledge and perhaps the most important education of all – learning how to learn.

That type of education then allows one to strike out and start climbing knowledge hierarchies in fields in which there is demand for immediate skills.

When those skills go away, well then it becomes time to retool by learning something new and useful which can then be applied to another hierarchy.

So then, while the study of law which is a robust course allows allows entrance into a guild – upon certification of ability by bar passage – only gets you to the base of the legal mountain, this is a huge attainment nevertheless.

To then find a path to climb this mountain is an even greater demonstration of ability. But there might be a problem.

What happens when you realize that the mountain you have been climbing no longer holds meaning for you?

Well, look around at the other mountain tops – i.e. hierarchies of industries – and try to figure out which one is going to be more meaningful to climb.

Then, you got to go down the mountain you are on, get over to that other mountain, and start climbing afresh.

Though it might be nice to parachute in to the top, if it calls for starting at the bottom … that’s fine, you know how to learn, you have a tremendous base of skills and “specialized knowledge; and just get moving!

Photo Credit: https://www.pnas.org/content/115/50/12630