Getting kids ready for the new workplace

chalk on blackboard trayRemember those indispensable employees that just knew things no one else knew? They could be the worst coworker in the world but were valued for what they knew in the moments that counted. Times have changed and we can know anything if we just figure out how to search for it. The Internet is the great knowledge equalizer. The value of simply knowing things just isn’t what it used to be.

Sure, there are still technical things and techniques to know cold, but there’s an increasingly important role for soft skills in the workplace. Soft skills are the differentiators in a world where anyone can know anything at any moment. Knowing this, what is the role of education in preparing kids for this new environment?

SEA Charter

To get to the bottom of this issue, I had to ask a friend who is a teacher and board member for SEA Charter Schools in Los Angeles. Rickey Williams is a rock star in my world because he chose this job over more lucrative and easier ways to make a living. SEA is a tough place and its makeup includes 65% of its students who are on probation for a criminal offense and 35% who have fallen behind the requirements for graduation before showing up.

The school was formed in 1972 by a handful of young mothers who sought to protect their youngsters from gang violence. The students come from some of the toughest situations in Los Angeles and are at considerable risk for violence, delinquency and academic failure. How can you find success in these circumstances?


Rickey teaches leadership skills. While he’s officially an English teacher, he knows that leadership skills are the kind that allow students to be more than marketable. He knows it will make their lives viable. In Rickey’s view, most schools in the U.S. were designed to prepare kids for the industrial revolution. Obedience, following instructions, and showing up on time were drilled in. Those jobs are fewer and farther between. Rickey is adamant that, “We can’t keep preparing our kids for a world that doesn’t exist.”

He chooses leadership because he knows that being good at following instructions and showing up on time is only part of the game. There will be always be someone willing to do that but for less money. Rickey knows that self-starting, autonomous people (we can’t lead unless we can lead ourselves) hold the keys to creating purpose. He knows that these are the people constantly developing and improving, gaining mastery of what they do. It is the self-starters who are very competitive and differentiated.

But that doesn’t change the basic facts of our educational system. To graduate, they still need to pass California standard exams. Rickey needs to instill leadership while also getting his students through the curriculum.

Rickey’s lists his influences as Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive, Seth Godin, and other provocative voices that deal with the changing world around us, including the workplace. But even more than what he reads, he sees the results in his students.

If it works there…

Something about Rickey’s point of view resonates strongly. If we can use leadership to prepare kids for a world in rapid change, we can give them skills that are critical regardless of the times. SEA Charter has graduation rates much higher than LA’s public schools despite the socio-economic challenges of the communities SEA serves. I’m not sure how much more proof we need.

If you want to know more about what SEA Charter Schools are doing, see their website.


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Categories: Learning

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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3 Comments on “Getting kids ready for the new workplace”

  1. Victor Tellez
    January 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    So true. Sadly, schools, both public and charter alike, have fallen behind. We attempt to prepare youth for a future we are yet to know what it’s going to be like. All this with outdated infrastructure. Schools are still managed as if though they were a feudal system where a principal needs the central approval from a district, and he or she needs to do a school board’s bidding regardless of how capable the board is. The instructional set up is still set up as if we still lived in the Victorian Era. Our students need more. They need teachers who will put them first. They need teachers who are willing to stand up to mediocre administration to get them to succeed as well.


  1. Williams can flow! | Successful Workplace - June 25, 2013

    […] a talented teacher and leader who lives in LA and works for SEA Charter Schools. He works in a very tough environment and has a higher graduation rate than the LA public schools. His work is an inspiration to […]

  2. Williams can flow! | Successful Workplace - June 25, 2013

    […] a talented teacher and leader who lives in LA and works for SEA Charter Schools. He works in a very tough environment and has a higher graduation rate than the LA public schools. His work is an inspiration to […]

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