Are Britain’s Schools and Universities Preparing Young People Well Enough for Work?

There is a growing concern amongst employers that Britain’s schools and universities are failing to prepare students for life after university. The days of Britain’s schools and universities being dedicated to the pursuit of obscure and arcane knowledge, ‘Pimms and Punting,’ and afternoon debates about Heidegger and Hegel have long since passed. Schools and universities are now institutions, first and foremost, whose job is to prepare people for the outside world.

Susan Lambert, Head of Education at the CBI, said at the launch of the CBI’s Higher Education taskforce that there was a general dissatisfaction amongst employers that soft-skills, communication skills, self-management, and language was in decline. While every graduate was expected to have these skills, some schools and universities have been patently failing to prepare people for the challenges ahead.

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One institution which has done more than most to connect their curriculum more widely to the world of work has been Liverpool’s John Moores University, through its ‘World of Work’ programme. The World of Work programme which enables every student at John Moores to build up a portfolio detailing how they have acquired key graduate skills. These skills include analysing and problem solving, teamworking and interpersonal skills, personal planning and organising, and information literacy and IT skills.

The programme, devised with input from the CBI, Shell, Sony, and Marks and Spencer also offers students the opportunity to earn a certificate of higher level ‘World of Work’ skills. This allows students to enter the world of work with the confidence that they have been trained in work-focused skills, and have a diploma to prove it.

However, while there is a widespread acknowledgement of the need to incorporate soft-skills into the university curriculum, preparing our young people for the world of work is about more than this. The John Moores ‘World of Work’ programme really excels is in the way it builds links with local, regional and national employers. This is an area in which universities have traditionally been quite ineffective.

There is a very clear need for schools and universities, particularly at the top and bottom ends of the scale, to do more to help students network with potential employers. This is a vital part of graduates getting on the job ladder, but today’s undergraduates are, for the most part, being made to fend for themselves. Help that universities can provide in this area can range from making introductions, helping secure work placements, and teaching students networking skills to   assisting students in using technology to get ahead in the job hunt itself.

Some careers are better catered for than others. In careers such as Investment Banking, Law, and Management Consultancy, the Milkround is an established vehicle for graduate recruitment, and university staff know how to make students make the most out of it. Indeed, a good record of attending Milkround events is more-or-less expected of a prospective applicant for a major firm in these sectors.

Yet, this is not the case for all careers, particularly in new and emerging sectors such as Digital Marketing and Social and Digital Media, and areas where the skill-set is constantly evolving, such as in the Creative Arts. Many graduates in these areas have described a feeling of ‘fending for themselves’ in the networking arena, making a large number of mistakes and damaging their reputation before they ‘got it right.’

These issues can be tackled – but they need a proactive approach. Universities need to embrace technology to help candidates fill the gaps which they have been thus far unable to. We need career resources which aid self-expression, helping business build relationships with a new generation. We need to take that to the YouTube generation, who visit the Apple Store, and are uploading and creating content online.

We also need to use this technology to develop a more modern and forward-looking way of documenting people’s experience. Until now, the traditional CV has remained inert in both format and delivery. The CV has not kept pace with developments in the marketplace, and many candidates, particularly graduates and middle-managers, feel it is an inadequate tool to demonstrate their experience.

If Britain is to develop candidates who are capable of holding their own in a globalised world, we simply must upgrade our nurturing of these soft-skills.

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Categories: Articles for Employers, Articles for Job Seekers, Current Affairs, Education and Training, Employee Training

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2 Comments on “Are Britain’s Schools and Universities Preparing Young People Well Enough for Work?”

  1. June 2, 2010 at 6:04 am #

    Please let me preface this comment by saying 1) I am not a teacher 2) I have no skills that would allow me to even remotely criticize what schools in the UK OR the US are doing. I don’t even live in the UK.

    However, if schools in the UK are following the trends that schools in the US are, I fail to see how they can be preparing children for the world of work or employment in the traditional sense. If you fail to achieve a certain level of competence in a skill in the world of work, you are not promoted or worst cae scenario, fired or written up. In many of today’s current schools, children are passed up from grade to grade and never given umm constructive feedback. Grades have become less meaningful and the constant postive encouragement, even when undeserved, is not doing kids any favors.

    It’s not just job skills or workforce skills we are depriving them of, it’s LIFE skills.

    • June 9, 2010 at 9:29 am #

      Hi Maren,

      Thanks for your comments. There does seem to be an emerging body of thought that echoes your concerns and that prompted the blog article. We’d be interested to hear from teachers or students themselves who feel let down by the system.

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