As automation and artificial intelligence continue to escalate their influence across our economic landscape, it becomes increasingly difficult to predict the future of work or the necessary technical skills that will stand the test of time. As a result, the conversation surrounding the need for soft skills is no longer obscured in theory; it’s an imminent reality.
In less than 10 years, jobs that once seemed like safe bets will be hard to find, while skills like creativity, social intelligence, and complex critical thinking will continue to grow in demand. However, with over 80% of U.S. school districts removing funding for arts and humanities programs and nearly one-third of youths admitting to being bullied by classmates, there’s still a long way to go for schools to create environments that foster these critical social skills.
Some entrepreneurs are attempting to solve this problem through an unlikely lens: BRANDING
“Branding is about differentiation and purpose,” says Casciotta who recently published his first book, Get Weird: Discover The Surprising Secret to Making a Difference. “When a company understands what makes their contribution to the world unique and can effectively rally others around that message, everyone wins. Most companies stop there, though. In an age where customization is paramount, truly effective brands not only have a deep sense of what makes them different but an equal if not greater grasp of what makes their customers unique, as well, and how that uniqueness gives them meaning. In the same way, when kids know that each of them is weird on purpose―that the things that make them different are what allow them to contribute to society―they are not only more well-adjusted human beings; they’re better prepared to enter the 21st-century workforce.”
Banking on this insight, Casciotta recently created a project called Ringbeller which he describes as video lessons that teach kids creativity and kindness. Along with activities that closely mirror some of the strategic exercises he walks companies through such as rapid prototyping, personality profiling, and empathy mapping, the curriculum includes a growing library of interviews with well-known difference makers like Seth Godin, Ira Glass of This American Life, and Food Network’s Maneet Chauhaun.
Schools Can Reimagine Their Brand Identity To Increase Student Relevance
Anthony Valentine, a freelance designer-turned-entrepreneur in the education field, takes a similar approach to Ringbeller, but aimed at older kids. Valentine has dedicated his life to designing new solutions to what he says are unignorable problems. Shortly after college, he served as an EMT in his local community of Hartford. While on call, he’d hear countless stories from youth reporting their struggles with a lack of self-confidence, validation and opportunity to advance beyond their current limitations.
That’s when Valentine decided to put both his passions for people and design to work, creating Kulturemag, a print and digital publication for schools that he describes as a hybrid between Scholastic News and Rolling Stone.
“We created Kulturemag with the intention of inspiring and engaging youth through aesthetically progressive content―the kind that appeals to and aligns with their culture,” says Valentine, who travels the country speaking to high school students and distributing the publication to them as part of his presentation.
From illustrations of political figures reimagined as modern day high schoolers taking their senior class portraits, to stories of social impact and entrepreneurship initiated by youth, to candid thought pieces that speak directly to the struggles young people face today, Valentine’s content is not what you’d normally expect to see circulated and endorsed by public schools. But that’s the point, he says.
“The narratives have been the same for too long. In a world where inclusion, equity, and authenticity are needed more than ever, schools have the opportunity to rise to the occasion and rethink their brand. Similarly, if brands want to continue to reach youth culture, giving kids access to the kind of education schools are struggling to provide might just allow them the competitive edge they’re looking for in an increasingly noisy marketplace.”
Helping Students And Teachers Define Their Personal Brand
Education institutions have some of the best built-in advocates for growth: they’re called teachers. Eric Goldreyer of Bulb, a digital portfolio company serving K-12 schools, explains the way education contrasts with other industries: “Unlike many industries when educators find something that works they want to shout it and share it from the mountaintops.” Unfortunately, he sees an excessive use of branding that plays too heavily on words like education or its abbreviation, ed. The concept of over-flooding the space with similar brand names is a phenomenon Goldreyer calls “Ednauseum.” He prefers to adopt the more consumer-minded approach he found successful while getting bedandbreakfast.com off the ground.
“We feel the brand for a global platform like Bulb needs to be more of a consumer brand than an [education] industry brand and should resonate with the students and teachers around the world―the real users of our platform―as opposed to solely the administrators. The brand is clearly more than just the name, typography, font and colors. It should represent you, your company, your product and what you stand for.”
Students are regularly using social media platforms and are fully aware of the impact a well-represented profile can deliver. They understand that to succeed in an increasingly competitive job market; it will take far more than good grade point averages and solid test scores. They will have to accentuate their soft skills and creativity through digital promotion. “Giving students and teachers a place to develop, document, reflect and show off that brand is precisely why we are here,” explains Goldreyer.
Even educators are waking up to the fact that they need to embrace branding principles if they wish to enhance their career options in education. Jeff Bradbury, the creator of TeacherCast Educational Network, has seen an increase in demand of teachers asking for his guidance in helping them develop their individual brands. According to Bradbury, “As educators grow ever more aware of the power of social media and how it can support not just the building of their ‘edu brands,’ but their household income, they are reaching to other educators-turned-entrepreneurs.”
Entrepreneurs like Casciotta, Valentine, Goldreyer and Bradbury are demonstrating that business acumen and branding know-how make a difference when used correctly in the education space. School and district leaders who want to graduate future-ready students―those with the flexible skill sets to find success in the careers of the present and future―would be wise to take notice.