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.

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