Thoughts on the future
Part of our role in academe forces us to look continuously into the future. We must seek or create a narrative that helps guide us to our future. Sadly, most of us do not have enough time to do future scanning justice. The day-to-day often gets in the way. Fortunately, for me, two activities permitted me to spend more time than usual thinking about the future. First, the AUPHA Board initiated a reassessment of our strategic plan. This has just begun thus the charge has not yet been set. Board members Suzanne Wood and Jessie Tucker are leading it jointly. Second, several AUPHA members are looking at the future by participating on a Higher Education Task Force 2025 jointly with ACHE. We are still collecting information but this joint Task Force includes our members along with colleagues from ACHE. It has a broad charge but at a minimum includes analyses of trends in education, learning technologies, and student behaviors
As a result, I have been reading about potential disruptions to our business model and in particular the gig economy. As we know, it has significantly disrupted a number of industries in the last decade or so. Does this innovation have a potential impact on health management education? A gig labor market is “characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.” For an interesting perspective on the gig economy, including the definition above, the current state and ideas regarding it evolution to a “collaborative economy” look at John Hagel’s blog posts and in particular the March 1, 2017, The Future of the Gig Economy.
We know that other industries benefit from or fall victim to this innovation. Hagel and others argue that the most rapid future job growth may come from this sector. A quick examination brings to mind taxi services (Uber, Lyft, Turo) and hotel services (Airbnb, OnefineStay). There is a host of other applications, however, that demonstrate how pervasive this innovation has become. A few of these are of particular interest such as OpenAirplane (time share an idle plane for your next trip), Closet Collective (rent designer clothes for events), Feastly (chef for hire), TaskRabbit (in home services), and Dolly (rent out moving services for those with strong back or truck). More relevant to our concern are such innovations as HelloTech (in home or office technical support), SpareHire (CFO, strategy consultants, marketing professional), and Freelancer (web development, graphic designer).
What these all have in common is that they have found ways to benefit the supply of and demand for labor. Technology enables rapid and episodic contracting for services to replace conventional employment in certain industries. Organizations or individuals have the need for a key and usually specialized service. While the expert and the associated services can be obtained the conventional way by employment, often the firm does not really need that person all year for the specialized tasks. The organization benefits from lower labor costs. Similarly, individuals with this expertise can forgo formal employment and contract to deliver the specialized service to a number of organizations. These individuals benefit from a highly flexible work schedule. They also can select to contract for only the work activities they wish to perform and for organizations they wish to work with. It requires more negotiation and contracting but may lower the costs of a large labor force.
Could this type of disruption happen within health management education? The question terrifies me at first thought. At the least, it could be highly disruptive. What would be the impact of the gig economy on our students, faculty and programs? How would it change the culture within our programs? How would faculty adapt to the gig model and what would be the role for faculty remaining in the traditional role?
One can imagine a future consisting of individual faculty with deep knowledge of a topic and outstanding teaching ability for that topic being in high demand across programs. Faculty of the future could be the expert for many programs for a particular class or perhaps even a portion of a class. It changes many things including the concept of tenure. While difficult to imagine, to some extent, this already happens on a small scale. We routinely utilize experts as guest lecturers to address a specialized portion of a class. These are usually practitioners and their role is most often limited.
The prospects if taken seriously require that we determine how much our educational models would evolve. What would be the most appropriate role for AUPHA in assisting the transition and what is the role of an association once the transition is complete. I do not have a clear understanding of the eventual outcome but several considerations come to mind. First, model may lower cost of faculty for program and provide access to experts with deeper knowledge of some materials. However, high quality graduate education requires more from our faculty than what is transmitted in the classroom or learning platform. The ability of most students to assimilate knowledge, skills and abilities and to develop the program’s competencies requires a broadly supportive infrastructure. Faculty need to be committed to the students’ development beyond the transmission of information. As we have seen with MOOCs, student active engagement in the learning process is essential for learning.
Second, it is clear the textbooks and learning tools will change should this model evolve. The specialized faculty responsible for a portion of the curriculum would seem to require highly detailed information but not necessarily the traditional text. We would need to revamp the structure of our resource support. Implementing that change will benefit from collective support.
Finally, despite advances in available communication technology, there is also evidence that loneliness has been increasing in the workplace. (See Vivek Murthy, “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic” Harvard Business Review, September 26, 2017). We are technologically connected but lonely. Dr. Murthy, former head of CDC calls this an epidemic. Some even encourage organizations to evaluate the current state of employ connections and make strengthening the connections a strategic priority. It is not difficult to imagine how the gig economy will exacerbate this epidemic generally. In healthcare management education, we have enough forces creating challenges to communication and cohesion, adding large numbers of loosely affiliated and not fully committed faculty certainly would not help.
I would love to get your comments/thoughts on the gig economy.