A Closer Look: Emerging Trends for 2018 and Beyond

A new year brings new resolutions for most of us, but for futurists, it is a time to consult that crystal ball and name those trends that will most affect us in 2018 and beyond. We already know that tax reform will bring change in the year ahead, but what other emerging trends could be impactful? In reviewing forecasts over the holidays, a few really caught my attention.

Market Forecasts: The End of Highways, the Birth of Affordable Second Cities, and the Rise of Global Cities

The ever-evolving demographic and economic make-up of the United States will continue to present both challenge and opportunity for independent schools. In the coming decade, the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, changing lifestyles, economic volatility, and infrastructure issues are just a few of the trends that will influence where people choose to live, work, and educate their children.

One major challenge facing our country today: maintaining aging freeways and bridges that connect suburban and rural areas to major urban centers. The costs of maintaining and/or rebuilding these has become staggering, driving many urban planners to suggest alternative solutions. Writing in the New York Times, Steven Kurutz describes a progressive movement in the urban planning community to “tear down highways in cities and replace them with lower-speed streets that favor pedestrians and bicyclists and foster greater connectivity among neighborhoods and residents.”

Those who support this movement say it can revitalize cities and the lives of those in them. One example is San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway, which hugged the city’s waterfront and was torn down after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Peter Park, a city planner who favors removing highways in cities where neighborhoods have been “significantly disconnected,” noted that the removal of this highway provided a rebirth to that part of the city and greatly increased property values. Park argues: “Not only in San Francisco but also in every case where a highway has been removed the city has improved.”

Writing in Nonprofit Quarterly, Martin Levine suggests that this movement also could create more diverse and inclusive communities:

In many cases, our highway systems provided mechanisms to allow white communities to wall off black and poor neighborhoods and to allow whites to flee cities for the suburbs. Removing these barriers might create a way to undo some of the harmful impacts of segregation.

This movement to eliminate highways also has significance for another emerging trend — the growth of affordable second cities, like Detroit, MI, and Buffalo, NY. The firm JWT, which annually announces the top 100 trends that will affect our world in the coming year, identifies one as “young adults leapfrogging the suburban life to reinvent affordable second cities, enjoying the trappings of groovy and gritty urban lifestyles at an affordable price.” With the rise of teleworking, people are not necessarily tied to a particular place to do a job, thus they are now looking to settle in more affordable urban centers. If these young adults continue this lifestyle after starting families, it may mean more of a draw to urban-based, community schools.
The rise of these second cities is being accelerated by the overall economic outlook for Millennials. Writing in The Huffington Post, author Michael Hobbes paints a bleak picture of what the future could hold for this generation as they build households:
What is different about us as individuals compared to previous generations is minor. What is different about the world around us is profound. Salaries have stagnated and entire sectors have cratered. At the same time, the cost of every prerequisite of a secure existence — education, housing and healthcare — has inflated into the stratosphere. From job security to the social safety net, all the structures that insulate us from ruin are eroding. And the opportunities leading to a middle-class life — the ones that boomers lucked into — are being lifted out of our reach. Add it all up and it’s no surprise that we’re the first generation in modern history to end up poorer than our parents.
Compounding this is another potentially transformative change—the rise of global cities. A recent article in the New York Times profiled how the change from a product-based to a knowledge economy is transforming the US landscape. Although many American companies still create physical things, globalization has enabled them to “separate intellectual work from routine work and scatter those roles across the globe.” “The knowledge work has tended to stay in the United States, while the routine work, which was historically performed in small towns and cities throughout the US, has now largely moved overseas. The result is that wealth is not distributed through a supply chain as it once was.” Saskia Sassen, a sociologist at Columbia University, describes the outcome this way:
To put it more harshly, when global cities need other communities today, it’s often to extract value out of them. New York bankers need Middle America’s mortgages to construct securities. San Francisco start-ups need idle cars everywhere to amass billion-dollar valuations. Online retail giants need cheap land for their warehouses. The rest of the country may receive the innovations that flow out of global cities, and the benefits to consumers are real. But by the time that’s done, the global cities have already invented something new and made themselves richer.

This dynamic means that smaller cities and towns are at the mercy of these global headquarter cities where decisions are made about where to open or close plants or retail operations. Case in point, Amazon has received 238 proposals from locales across North America to build its second headquarters; many wait with great anticipation for this potential windfall that could change local economies.

There are many implications for schools in exploring these trends: 
  • Could the elimination of highways spur families to move out of suburban and rural areas back into cities?
  • With sections of metro areas becoming revitalized, is there an opportunity for independent schools to launch micro schools in emerging neighborhoods?
  • Will metro areas evolve from the behemoths they are today into a series of smaller self-contained communities, offering schools an opportunity to position themselves as community centers?
  • Will the plight of Millennial households put independent schools, as they are now structured, out of the reach of all but the wealthiest?

Workforce Forecasts: The War for Talent Heats Up

In addition to emerging market-oriented trends, some forecasts for 2018 portend major shifts in the workforce, according to the Herman Trend Alert, which annually publishes a list of workplace trends. I believe the following 2018 trends could significantly impact independent schools:
  1. Upward pressure on wages — Talent shortages in many areas are driving up wages significantly. Schools may find it difficult, even impossible, to fill certain positions in the coming years, such as in tech-centric professions.
  2. Focus on the "employee experience" will increase — Employees are looking for environments that support them doing their best work. This means that potential faculty and staff will want to know more about a school’s culture before accepting a position. Environments that emphasize continual growth and development are particularly sought by Millennials.
  3. Growing emphasis on flexibility in schedules and location — Employees are seeking both flex-time and flex-place. The latter can be hard for bricks-and-mortar schools, but forecasters suggest that leaders brainstorm ways that their institutions can offer even moderate flexibility.
  4. Expect to see higher percentages of contingent workers — According to the global staffing agency Ranstad, “Many workers are seeking project or consultant-based work, with as much as 61 percent of the workforce choosing agile careers by 2019.” This also will pose a challenge for schools, but school leaders need to consider how this trend could be turned into an opportunity, such as identifying jobs that could be done remotely and at perhaps significant savings.
  5. Automation will mostly support the work of humans, not replace them In a recent study, Forrester Research reported “close to 15 million new jobs will be created in the US alone over the next decade as a result of automation and smart machines.” Technology can provide schools with new opportunities for enhancing their workforce.
  6. Sexual harassment claims will grow exponentially — Past abuses will continue to come out and play out very publicly in the media. Schools need to ensure they have effective sexual harassment policies in place and are building healthy cultures for adults and students alike.
Surely as we breathe air, change will continue to occur. We need to talk about these changes and brainstorm alternative futures. As Peter Drucker notes: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” Food for thought. Happy New Year!
Donna Orem
Donna Orem

Donna Orem is NAIS President.


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