Education and Career in the 21st Century: The Weekly Mentor, Oliver DeMille


The New Problem

Time magazine and The Economist recently ran articles on education and career, and how the changing economy has made the current conveyor-belt style of schooling almost entirely obsolete—for everything except low-paying jobs. The Atlantic ran a similar article showing that American workers are going to be struggling to compete in the global economy for decades (or longer) ahead.

Blindfolded Figurines

Our education system just isn’t effectively training students for the needs of the 21st Century economy.

This is a major problem. For years, people have worried that this was the case at the elementary and high school levels, and this has turned out to be the case. No surprise. But now it is becoming clear that our college level training has the same problem. It is training people for an economy that no longer exists, for low to mid-level pay.

Another Solution

Time suggested going to a 6-year high school format, and The Economist pointed out that the entire approach of most of today’s schools needs to be reformed. More thinking, less rote. Less Industrial Age, more Information Age. Less conveyor belt, more leadership training.

Again, and this bears repeating until everyone understands it, these have been widely discussed at the elementary and high school levels, but not nearly as much at the university level.

And higher education is where the real problem is.

David Brooks wrote in The New York Times  that people who want to build a successful career in public policy should do some key things. As I read it, I realized that two of these apply to college education as well.

If you want to get a good college education, one that prepares you for more than mid-level jobs, seriously consider both of these ideas:

  1. “[A]pprentice yourself to a master craftsman.” Education has got to be more about a great mentor, and less about credits, checklists, grades, and syllabi. Great education is always about an excellent mentor. Note that Brooks used the term “master craftsman,” the same phrase C.S. Lewis wrote about in “The Inner Ring” when he wanted to suggest how to really succeed in learning, career, and life. Getting the right mentor is becoming more important than where you attend college or what your major in.
  2. “Second,” David Brooks wrote, “take a reality bath. Go off and become a stranger in a strange land. Go off to some alien part of this country or the world. Immerse yourself in the habits and daily patterns of that existence and stay there long enough to get acculturated. Stay there long enough so that you forget the herd mentality of our partisan culture.” This is vital to learning how to think—not just what to think, which is what too many colleges and universities teach now in the name of education.

The University of Virginia recently began promoting such a hands-on approach in an intriguing way by helping some of their law school grads do internship work—and other schools have followed suit. Internships and travel, along with moving abroad to work, can help fill this need to see the world differently.

  1. The third thing I’d add to this list is to read a bunch of classics, no matter what your major is. The classics will give you     depth, and breadth. They’ll help you be a thinker, and a leader, not just a follower. As our employee-oriented system falls behind in the global economy, those who can work well in a job but also be excellent leaders—and turn their job into something much more effective—are most in demand. They’re in demand not just in the United States, Canada, or Europe, but around the world.

The New Success

In the Information Age, leadership education is essential to real career success.

Teach your youth to head in this direction right now, so they won’t fall behind in the world economy. And do the same yourself, if needed, to make you and your family more marketable.

Education is no longer the key to career success, “the right kind of education” is. And what is “the right kind of education” today and in the years ahead is different than what most of us were taught in school.

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To discover nineteen indispensable skills for adult learners and college students to get a truly great, leadership education – wherever they attend school – see 19 Apps: Leadership Education for College Students


od crop Reading Rules! The Weekly Mentor, Oliver DeMille Oliver DeMille is the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd. He is the NY Times Bestselling co-author of LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through Leadership Education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

About the Author:

Rachel is the co-author of Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning and the audio series Core and Love of Learning: A Recipe for Success, and the author of the award-winning educational resource, This Week in History. She is an accomplished musician, writer, literary editor, public speaker, consultant and momschool organizer.


  1. Nick Quinn March 22, 2014 at 7:22 am - Reply

    Its unfortunate for those of us choosing a leadership education for our children that we often have to sit helplessly by while friends and family send their children into the conveyor belt, where they are probably going to cause those children to be even farther behind than when we were in school because times are changing so fast. Even with all the great points about leadership education and all the negativity and poor results of the conveyor belt, people still run to that system because they have been convinced of the lie that they aren’t good enough or smart enough or credentialed enough to educate their children. And they won’t see the error of their ways until its too late. How do we reach these people that we care about who don’t understand?

  2. JW March 24, 2014 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    We were always taught to use references when alluding to other articles within our own writing. Aside from the Times link, it would be helpful for the reader if you would reference the articles you mention in this piece.
    Thank you!

    • Rachel DeMille March 27, 2014 at 11:17 am - Reply

      Sorry, those links are there now. We weren’t in the same place at the same time for almost a week, so I had to nail him down to get those citations!

  3. Christine April 1, 2014 at 4:34 am - Reply

    The NY Times article is excellent, and refreshing/reassuring as well. I guess I’m surprised that such things are printed in this day and age in such a “popular” newspaper. One life at a time (starting with our own) we can make a difference!

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