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Where the puck is going to be

Hockey great, Wayne Gretzky is credited with saying, “a good hockey player plays where the puck is; a great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

Mr. Gretzky’s insight is applicable to the challenge faced by policy makers, higher education leaders, families, and students alike. Colleges and universities prepare students, not only for their first job, but also for the jobs of the future—and not only for jobs, but for lives of purpose and meaning.

When it comes to jobs, too often we play to where the puck is today. There are in fact shortages today—of family practice doctors and welders, for example. There are also looming shortages in areas such as engineering and teaching. Students entering kindergarten last fall need to be prepared for where the puck will be in 2030. Recent National Governors Association (NGA) estimates are that 52 percent of the jobs of the future will require a postsecondary degree. For Wisconsin specifically, others prognosticate that 62 percent of the jobs of the future will require postsecondary education. The numbers vary a little—the point is the same! Tomorrow will not be like today.

Also complicating our efforts to locate the puck is the fact that – according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics – today’s students will change jobs an average of 11 times in their working careers.

Sometimes, it seems that instead of playing where the puck will be, we spend our time arguing about what the puck is. Today’s shortages are real and must be addressed, but we must get ready for tomorrow. Instead of disparaging particular fields of study or occupations, we need to embrace the interconnectivity of today’s and tomorrow’s economy. It is not a question of either-or; we need – and need to honor – all occupations.

Back again to how WAICU-member colleges and universities are locating the puck. Two of the many ways:

First, because the puck will always be in motion, we emphasize the importance of “learning how to learn.” In four years of college, you cannot learn “all you need to know” for the 11 different jobs you will hold or for the jobs that do not yet even exist. A quality education includes content, but most important, develops the students’ abilities to pursue a lifelong love of learning and to embrace continuous learning.

Second, employers and colleges and universities recognize that the most important outcome of higher education is what I have called the “4-Cs.” CEOs already “get it,” finding greatest value in communications skills (89 percent) critical thinking/reasoning (81 percent), character (75 percent), and creativity (70 percent). [Source: Raising the Bar, Hart Research Associates]

If we are going to “play to win,” we’re going to have to get our facts straight and “play to where the puck is going to be.”



Rolf Wegenke, Ph.D.