Improving Employability…

Businesses reading the future of the labour market and feeding employment needs back in to the education system sounds like a great plan.

Except we haven’t yet found a way to do it.

We do not know enough about how the labour market will shape up with enough ‘notice’ to make any real difference to the educational process at all.

And then there is the small matter that education is not all about employability and entrepreneurship.

Few teachers join the education system as a kind of prep school for employers and have an innate suspicion of employers looking for ready made employment ‘fodder’. The vision for education is larger than slotting people into jobs. It is about the realisation of potential. In the heads of many education professionals the two goals of realising potential and developing employability make uncomfortable bed-fellows.

I have been involved in Vocational Education and Training, both on the policy side and in practice for over 25 years. Not one of those 25 years has gone by without similar diagnoses and prescriptions:

  • A stronger role for employers,
  • more business in the curriculum,
  • better specifications of what it means to be employable (whole careers can be developed in this field),
  • reformations of the careers service,
  • more employability projects, internships, mentoring, and so on.

And while our engagement as ‘business people’ may help us to feel like we are doing our part, and there are plenty of awards to be won, in the grand schemes of things it makes very little difference. 20+ years of ‘improving school standards’ and still employers complaining about the product…..

If we are serious about improving the life chances of our young people we need to radically revise the nature of the education process and system, not bolt on another committee.

We need to encourage young people to know themselves, their passions and and their potential (almost impossible when you are asked to turn interest on and off at the call of the school bell).  Instead of trying to take slivers of the real world into school we should do much, much more to get children into adult company in real work and non-work settings, public, private and third sector. It is not just business that needs to be more involved with schools, but adult society in general.  Personally I think that post 14 most young people should spend more time being educated outside the school than in it.

There is an argument to say that the only thing children really learn at school is how to relate to an authoritarian system, either through compliance or defiance.

If we are serious about the potential of all our young people then tinkering with the curriculum and the occasional day of smoothie making is just not going to cut it. We need to re-think how we prepare young people to play full lives in adult society. And as a nation that is a debate that we not seem to have the political will to hold.


  1. Paul Burr says:

    I think that valuing an individual is most important and should be uppermost in an education environment.

    A few years ago I used to take quite long lunches from work, being the managing director and business founder does have some perks!

    I spent time, mid week, at a motorcycle training project called ‘BUMPY’ at Howden Clough, riding around on a trials bike. I noticed their were often a group of school age boys at the facility. Apparently they were allowed there if they attended school for 2 1/2 days per week.

    These boys were not the classic ‘education fodder’, some had been excluded in the past, probably difficult to teach no doubt. They did have character though. In fact I remember remarking to one of my colleagues – “they’ve the potential to either be the next Alan Sugar or they’ll be locked up”.

    My point being, if the system was able to find a way to engage them with something they are interested in, their value to society as a whole could be greater than the value the system rates them. (Potential would be a good word here). From a point of view of the individual concerned, their value to themselves would be much greater. Isn’t that the point of an educating body?

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