Earlier this month, Prof Tom Kochan delivered a provocative and absorbing xTalk on the changing expectations of the American Dream and how it affects work, education, and social mobility.
Starting with the traditional promise - if one works hard, gets a good education, and plays by the rules one can achieve a higher standard of living than one's parents - Kochan outlined how this promise no longer holds true for the children of Baby Boomers. Today less than 50% of Next Gen'ers believe in the traditional American Dream. This indicates a critical need for a cross-generational conversation on how to restore opportunities for the Next Gen and beyond.
Over the past 100 years, job satisfaction levels among American workers have fallen, and wage/productivity levels have experienced negative growth. Productivity and income no longer rise at parallel levels, another indication that the previous social compact is broken.
Kochan led a lively discussion on what government, education and the private sector can do to reverse these trends. Starting with bolstering unions and creating new flexible ways to learn and work, Kochan outlined the ideal foundations of a vibrant growing economy. It will be one that creates and supports trust between labor and management, including fostering labor/mananagment partnerships as well as encouraging employee engagement and participation in the evolution and growth of the enterprise. In addition, the oudated model of two classes of workers - management and labor - needs to be replaced with a more cooperative, collaborative paradigm.
In the educational sphere, all institutions of learning need to be active contributors to a new social contract. This includes providing affordable early childhood outreach educational opportunities, working collaboratively to reform elementary and secondary schools, building alliances with employers and labor groups to enhance professional development and lifelong learning, and transforming professional schools to ensure the next generation of leaders has the skills to build and sustain a social compact for the future.
For a full audio file of Kochan's presentation as well as his presentation slides, please visit odl.mit.edu/events/.
- Molly Ruggles