Should employers focus on schools to prepare for the work of tomorrow?

Jan 8, 2017 | Apprentices & school leaver

Tom Ravenscroft, Founder and CEO of Enabling Enterprise, considers the future of work and how one venture is helping to prepare school leavers.

We’re talking a lot about the future these days. We are increasingly conscious of some of the big trends that are heading our way: automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

We worry for ourselves. We worry for our children and young people. And with good reason – some of the youngest in our schools will only be entering the labour market in the mid-2030s. They may well still be there at a sprightly 70 or 75 years-old, which takes us to 2090.

It is not a remarkable insight that by then, the world of work is likely to be beyond our imaginations today. Since the industrial revolution, savvy industrialists have been replacing expensive human labour with machine labour. But the pace of change is picking up – how quickly we got used to automated phone systems, self-check outs and booking holidays online without the help of a travel agent. These lower-skilled jobs have borne the brunt of technological progress over the last decade.

Self-driving technology puts thousands of roles at risk. Machine learning is reducing the need for legal professionals, or for accountants and auditors. There is even talk of professions like teaching being turned upside-down by individualised learning.

 Essential skills

There is a problem. If we cannot compete on routine jobs, even those requiring a lot of knowledge, then we must fall back on what a Goldman Sachs’ report in 2016 saw as the human race’s unique advantage: adaptive occupations that draw particularly on flexibility, creativity and strong interpersonal skills.

These skills are critical. The 2017 ISE Development Survey highlighted that half of employers think graduates don’t have the soft skills they expect them to have, with key gaps including their ability to communicate with others, negotiate or work effectively in a commercial environment.

It’s not just employers. Universities are upping their game. For example, the University of Cambridge explicitly highlights the need to build a wider set of study skills like being able to think critically, to listen and share ideas, to be flexible and adaptable. These skills are a vital missing piece in our education system.

Teachers see the problem in classrooms too. The ISE made a call last year for soft skills development to start at school as it found 61% of employers agreed that they need to work closer with schools to help close the skills gap.

 Preparing school leavers

So, how can we possibly prepare our young people for so many future possibilities? While the specific technical skills that our children and young people will need will vary, the transferable skills that they need are pretty consistent, and applicable in many settings.

Alongside basic skills like literacy and numeracy, we now see the ability to use IT as fundamental. We need to add to that list eight further essential skills: teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, creativity, listening, presenting, aiming high and staying positive.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t still need to be teaching knowledge as the priority in our schools, or looking to build positive character too. The skills don’t make knowledge redundant – but nor can you use knowledge, or build new knowledge effectively, without them.

Over the last decade, I have been running Enabling Enterprise, which has partnered with almost 300 schools across the country in a quiet revolution, embracing the future and building these skills to prepare our children and young people for the future.

Students have weekly lessons focused on building these skills – both teaching them the theory (like different styles of leadership) and then applying and practicing them through real projects. Such as producing a radio show, running a fundraising campaign or setting up a small business.

The role of employers here is paramount: Enabling Enterprise programmes are brought to life by being able to take students out of the classroom to visit some of over 130 partners: including accountancies, law firms, airports, engineering firms, retailers and just about every other sector.

Without this real-life link, we run the risk of building great skills in the classroom without the transferability that allows these skills to make a difference in the rest of our students’ lives.

Using advances in technology we can now measure these skills too. So we know that without a focused approach, students don’t just build these skills by good luck. But with focused teaching and practice, it is perfectly possible for every child and young person to build the skills they need to thrive.

We don’t know what the future will bring but by employers and schools working together, we can ensure that every student is equipped with the knowledge and skills to thrive in the 21st century.

You can read more about some of these issues in my new book, ‘The Missing Piece: The Essential Skills that Education Forgot’, published by John Catt Educational Publishing.

 For more insights and information on developing student talent visit ISE Knowledge

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