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Back to school, back to reality



Yesterday Charlie said, “the education system doesn’t provide skills suitable for employment at any level and employers are reluctant to pick up the slack and train employees”. There is a lot of truth in this, but as increasingly seems to be the case these days, I think the issues are slightly more complicated.

First of all let’s be clear. The education system is not failing. Children are better taught and better educated than they have ever been. The problem is that the stuff, the information, the knowledge that we need to have has increased exponentially over the past decades, yet the education system has (in terms of time) remained the same.

Let’s take an example. Remember Physics? It was the tough part of science, the bit that made your ears bleed. But some people liked it and went on to study it at University (weirdos). Take a quick look at the UCAS database and you’ll see that there are 21 different specialist Physics degrees that you can take now. Because what we know and what we think we know has expanded beyond belief, a simple cover all isn’t possible.

Likewise, we hear constant cries of despair about how much easier exams are these days. They’re not. They just haven’t got any harder and we have got both better at taking them and more informed. When we complain about this all we are really doing is showing our age and our fear of progress.

The response from the business world to these issues has been typical short-sighted and ill-conceived. With one voice we called for more vocational training for degrees to be more practical, for 16 plus education to be more varied. Then when the newly trained graduates come through the production line, we claim their education and skills are out of date and they lack the intellectual rigor. No shit Sherlock.

The academic world will never be able to offer up to date truly vocational education at the highest level, because it is unable to attract the people who will be able to teach it without becoming completely economically unviable. And they shouldn’t be aiming to do so. That shouldn’t be their role.

You want to know what I think? Well tough. You have no choice. We need to reframe the way that we think about education, we need to reframe the relationship between business and education. When you buy a new phone, they tell you to charge it fully and then let it discharge. The idea is to increase the capacity of the battery so that in future it can retain more power. We need to start thinking about education in this way. It is “merely” expanding the capacity for learning and information.

So where does that leave us as employers? Well, if the market isn’t providing what you need, you need to incentivize it to do so, or intervene directly. We need to recognize that our needs are so diverse that we cannot expect the generic education system to meet them. We need to impress upon the need to provide us with people capable of learning, but we need to provide the specific skills training we require ourselves.

But don’t expect this to be all one way. When businesses invest, they want a return. And that isn’t going to be over the short-term. Bonded labour? It might not be a million miles off.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Sukh Pabial permalink
    09/21/2010 11:09

    I love this. Last year I started formulating thoughts for a course I called ‘Business Effectiveness’. The idea is take a fresh group of graduates ready to be taken on by an employer and for one month train them in the skills they need for business success. Everything from business acumen-setting objectives-financial awareness-emotional intelligence-interpersonal skills. From what I remember it would take 4 weeks to cover all topics and at the end they gain a certificate in Business Effectiveness.

    It’s almost like an Induction programme, but covers far more topics than you may envisage.

    I’d love to think this is a possibility, but the sad reality is as you so rightly point out, businesses need to invest in a program like this so that they foster and nurture the very behaviours, attitudes, skills and knowledge they’re seeking. And in these austere times, that’s highly unlikely.

    • 09/21/2010 11:52

      I agree with Sukh.
      If it can’t be incorporated into all further education courses, then a universal (to a point) induction course would be a great idea. Large businesses have the benefit of a formal HR department, and experienced managers who would be able to deliver such a program, but small businesses are often ill-prepared to nurse graduates from student to viable employee in a short time frame. That’s why small businesses much prefer to recruit from larger organisations who have done this for them.

      In that instance, and in the current climate, the bonded labour (where new employees are locked in for say 2 years) idea may not be so crazy after all.

  2. g-dog permalink
    09/21/2010 12:23

    Indentured servitude? Is this what is meant by bonded labour?

  3. 09/23/2010 08:34

    @Sukh Pabial – I’m not so sure I agree with you lack of faith in this, I think if you could engage businesses in the design phase and then potentially give them first dibs on the recruits you might find you could get a couple of partners on board. Just my thoughts.

    @Stephen O’Donnell – I have to say I think bonded labour or some other such phrase will be a clear part of our future. Remember, you read it here……

    @g-dog – Yes that is right. In order to recieve the skills and training, you commit to a period of employment. A bit like a trining contract on steroids.

  4. 09/23/2010 16:06

    Awesome. That’s a completely different view. Everyone I speak to is blaming the education system, and it is tempting to do so. Thanks for writing this because I am worrying and thinking a lot about this. In particular how education hasn’t really changed for a long time. Is this a bad thing? I haven’t decided yet.

    The sheer amount of different subjects studied by kids and number of straight As which are becoming standard is astonishing.

    Children are amazing, little sponges soaking up knowledge and boring their parents with facts and figures.

    Yet when they become 16, 18 or get spat out of university in their early 20s people don’t want to employ them.

    Bonded labour – didn’t we used to call those ‘graduate programmes’ or ‘apprenticeships’? 🙂

    I would have signed up for that….

    I would like to see more career education though – most of us (ok, so not me) do jobs we would never have heard of as kids. I wish I’d known more about what people actually do for money when I was a kid.

    *Any jokes about me still being a child will be ignored here too, by the way 😛

  5. 09/29/2010 08:44

    @Charlie Duff – Your point about Career Education is a great one, I wrote about this a LONG time ago and was attacked by employees from the Careers Service saying how they were under more pressure than ever before etc. etc. But the fact is that the services provided are shocking. If we can create learners, open their eyes to careers and then as businesses invest in the skills that they need, that has to be a more sustainable model.

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