Monday, 24 October 2011

Employer engagement in education and young people

What is the role of employer engagement in education? In our rapidly changing world of work this is one of the more pressing questions relating to young people in education and employment.
At this year’s Education and Employers Taskforce conference the keynote speaker and lead author on the Pathways to Prosperity report, professor Bob Schwartz of Harvard outlined why young people’s engagement in education is a challenge for educators, policy makers and employers and what needs to be done.
The two things which stood out for me were; (1) today many young people simply drift into four year degrees with no planned career path. What he calls the ‘four year drift’. And, (2) 25 per cent of young people in the US do not complete high school. Looked at individually or collectively these present long-term challenges for anyone involved in education.
Parallels can be made between his observations about the US education system and that of the UK. For example a recent survey by the Association of Colleges suggests that 49 per cent of colleges have seen a fall in the number of students enrolling. Furthermore, organisations such as the CBI, which represents employers, complain that many young people do not even have the skills which employers need after completing four year degrees. This leads to what experts refer to as the 'four year drift' or for those on a three year programme 'the three year drift'.
One of the consequences of this 'four year drift’, is that we’ve ended up in a situation where there is a “mismatch for jobs”. Jobs are available but graduates don’t have the skills.
With youth unemployment in Britain now standing at 21.3 per cent amongst 16-24 year olds, the education system needs to offer alternative pathways which would reduce the skills deficit, re-engage young people in learning and reduce unemployment.
As Professor Schwartz points out, for this to happen, parents and young people need to have an understanding of the economy. Secondly a strategy has to be developed to get more employers involved in education as governments today do not have the resources to address these challenges.
Appropriate and purposefully employer engagement in education can help reduce the number of young people starting suffering long periods of unemployment. It helps young people make the connection between what they are learning and what they need to know, thus making the transition from education to the world of work much easier.   
Our current research which is still in phase 1 seems to be pointing to evidence which suggest that enterprise and entrepreneurship education that involves employers is more engaging and achieves greater impact, when it comes to engaging young people in education and employment.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Leadership and Enterprise

David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative party conference was big on hope and optimism. It reminded me of something Barack Obama said during his 2009 inauguration speech. “Starting today we need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America.” This time around it’s the UK economy which needs remaking.
In an attempt to raise his audience’s aspirations and fix their gaze on the economic challenges facing Britain and respond to claims that our economy is the sick man of Europe, the Prime Minister said “we came back and turned this country into a beacon of enterprise.” Noting; “it's not the size of the dog in the fight - it's the size of the fight in the dog.”
Overcoming the challenge, confounding the sceptics, reinventing ourselves and growing the economy as the Prime Minister wants us to do, requires more than words. We need to build on these intentions with practical and detailed actions, about how we can become a beacon of enterprise.
The aspects of his speech which chime with the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning research on enterprise and entrepreneurship education are ideas of self-esteem, confidence, training and skills, hard-work, independence, creativity, adaptability, optimism and a can-do attitude. These are the sort of skills and behaviours which an initial literature review of enterprise and entrepreneurship education suggest an enterprising nation needs to develop in its people.
If we are to compete and stay ahead of the likes of China, India and Brazil, provide skilled staff which employers need, then cutting red tape which stifles entrepreneurial activity and providing government funding as the Prime Minister suggested are both steps in the right direction.
This week the Financial Times reported that the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs are still creating jobs on a large scale, despite rising unemployment, the government could be doing even more to support enterprise and entrepreneurial education in schools, colleges and universities.