Employers are very vocal about the qualities they’d like to find in job applicants. Let’s give them what they want.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying: “I’ve never let my school interfere with my education”. Michelle Obama brings us right up to date with a quote from her own podcast: ‘I had a limited vision of what I could be because schools don’t show you the world, they just show you a bunch of careers”
You don’t have to look far to find more quotes along these lines, with known voices from the world of Education and Business in agreement that something should be done about the gap between what young people know and what employers would like them to know; what constitutes correct preparation for the world of work and what should be done to instil a degree of common sense and cultural capital that will enable them to make the best of themselves once they’ve left the confines of the classroom.
Let’s look at the positives, for wherever a student is heading after leaving school the gaps referred to are easily filled with a few hours of focussed application.
If only there was such a thing as an A* in being Work Savvy.
The press and social media are warming to their task in alerting the world to the fact that our students are failing to learn a whole host of things that would genuinely be useful in later life. The gap between academia and the world of work has grown to the point where we must have somebody to whom we can point the finger of blame.
Blame is commonly placed on a traditional teaching curriculum whose focus is on passing exams, and not on passing-out with qualifications equipped for survival in the real world. The point is also made that it’s not a school’s job to teach students all those things that should be taught at home. Hence blame is also directed towards parents who in theory should have the time and the incentive to impart wisdom and common sense at any available opportunity, to do with any subject that is deemed relevant.
It’s unreasonable to blame either. Schools are all too often judged on where their students’ academic qualifications stand relative to a closely-monitored performance benchmark, and they’re on a hiding to nothing if they fail to allocate precious resources to do just that. If there’s any time or money left to promote extra-curricular matters they almost certainly do what they can. As for the parents, even the most dedicated might realise that all too often children are more inclined to listen to/absorb information from anybody else but their own. The maxim that “You teach my child to drive and I’ll teach yours” might chime with both parents and would-be drivers alike.
MIND THE GAP
Let’s put the blame somewhere though. There has always been a gap between what is taught and what’s needed, but this gap has widened in recent years. Sociological, environmental and technological influences are all forces that have altered the dynamics by which employers hire their staff, and perhaps it’s not fair that they hold all the cards since they can have their workforce ‘on trial’ as interns/trainees while they make up their minds whether to take them on full-time. They can take their pick from screened applicants, and those who still fall short of exacting standards to do with hard/soft skills will find themselves back in the mix.
However, there’s little point in blaming the employers because nobody is press-ganged into working for them, and they make no secret of the qualities they’re looking to find in applicants. The methods used to do so might make the whole process of job application a thoroughly dispiriting experience but that’s a topic for another day.
So, if we don’t yet have the right answers we should set about altering the questions.
There’s no need to alter the benchmark by which schools are judged if we keep the exams but make them different. They could focus on topics that are far more relevant and pose questions to equip students with the ability to understand how their daily lives will be influenced by the modern dynamics of change. The basic principles of subjects to do with personal finance, daily politics, accountancy and economics are all too often peripheral but should become mainstream. Alongside workplace protocols there are also various miscellaneous topics that should be incorporated to shore up social and cultural capital.
You could argue that this has never been more important than right now, since COVID-19 has created some radical adjustments to the way that we work. Worries about how to cope in the workplace have too many people on the back foot, but a little knowledge at the right moment provides the confidence to succeed in interview, hit the ground running and not merely survive but thrive.
Such a thing as a ‘Work Savvy’ qualification would get somebody off to a fine start in life beyond school. After all, the real world is still ‘school’ but with (perhaps) better food, fewer rules and shorter holidays. The chances are you’ll still be wearing some kind of ‘uniform’, and there’s still a ‘curriculum’ but it’s now referred to something called a learning-curve. But at least you might get paid while you’re gaining all that experience.