The Blame Game
This week there have been a number of stories in the media about the way in which we prepare our young people for the world of work. The outgoing head of the CBI, John Cridland, set the ball rolling when he used his departure from the UK’s most influential business lobby as the moment to declare that our current education system has failed pupils by focusing on academic progress over vocational learning and by not giving sufficient careers guidance on vocational options from an early age.
This was followed by a Gallup survey of education experts who believe that UK universities are also failing their students because they lack “alignment with the work place” and fail to provide sufficient links between learning and experience.
Anyone who works in education knows that people love to blame the system for wider problems in society but there is a very strong argument to be made for improving our approach to developing skills that are relevant to employment in the twenty-first century, and these claims are nothing new.
It’s over 16 years since Sir Ken Robinson led the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education, which in its 1999 report, “All our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education”, set out a national strategy intended “to unlock the potential of every young person”, arguing “Britain’s economic prosperity and social cohesion depend on this”.
Same Old Same Old
That strategy didn’t take root and we’re now well into a new century and still having the same conversation about whether or not our education system is fit for purpose. Admittedly, in this age of technology it’s difficult for schools to keep pace with changes in the workplace but that cannot be held up as an excuse. In situations like this, constraint should be the catalyst for creativity.
We need innovation and creative thinking to address these shortcomings and ensure that our young people understand the environment they will find themselves in when they leave education and have to start making their own way in the world.
Young people need to understand what employers want from them. We need to prepare them not just to write CVs and sit interviews but also to be ready for the demands of the workplace.
It’s also imperative that they know how to manage the money they will earn and, particularly if they’ve been through university, how to manage debt.
They need to understand how they can contribute to society. They need to be aware how the tax they will pay funds society and how they can make their voice heard in deciding where that tax is best spent.
And they need to be able to find a place to live, where they can build an independent life outside of the parental home. For most, this will mean learning how to deal with landlords and rental contracts, while they try to save an ever-increasing deposit amount for a mortgage they may never get.
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
All of these concerns are inter-connected and part of preparing young people for adult life is helping them to grasp those connections, so that they can make the links between the life they aspire to and the work they will need to undertake to get there.
We need to ensure that every child leaves our education system able to make an effective contribution to the economy and play an active role in society. No matter how they progress academically, they will all have to face the same challenges in adulthood, which is why we should be developing those skills at every stage of education. Not to do so does them a huge disservice and is only creating bigger problems for all of us further down the line.