How should our schools respond to the changing demands of the twenty first century?

by Anthony Mann
Director of Policy and Research, Education and Employers Taskforce

This is the question addressed in a new publication featuring interviews with eight leading commentators on the relationship between education and employment.*

A number of common themes from the eight interviews are picked out in an introductory essay by editors Anthony Mann (Education and Employers Research) and Prue Huddleston (University of Warwick). Contributors note the ways that in the UK (and other OECD countries) the labour market has become notably more hostile to young people over the last generation with lower levels of qualification especially vulnerable.  A number of distinct trends relating to technological change, globalisation, competition from older workers and changes in recruitment practice have all worked to the structural disadvantage of young people. With an hour glass labour market hollowing out, the risk of becoming stuck in low skill, low pay employment has increased for young people.

Interviews highlight ways in which schools can, and should respond, to specific changes in the relationship between education and employment.

Firstly, as the labour market has become more complex, it has become more difficult for young people to make informed investment decisions about the education and training (human capital) they accumulate, contributing to significant mismatch between skills demanded by the labour market and those possessed by young people, increasing the importance of high quality careers provision informed by real workplace contacts.

As Ewart Keep argues: It is absolutely apparent that if we want to do anything to make transitions into an increasingly complex working world easier for young people, it is essential that high quality careers information advice and guidance is available.  Without that, we might as well give up, it is that important. …We need to help young people become far more discerning consumers of the provision available to them.

Secondly, dynamic, deregulated labour markets demand new skills from young people both in terms of what is needed to successfully navigate ever more fractured transitions from education into sustained employment, and with regard to skills (crucially, in the effective application of knowledge) associated with the most successful transitions.

As Andreas Schleicher argues: Schools need to stop preparing young people for the jobs that existed a generation ago and start preparing them for jobs which do not yet exist. For example, entrepreneurship education is much more important now than it was a generation ago because it teaches those skills and personal attributes which oil the modern labour market.  It should not be taught separately but written into every subject.  

The interviews tell a story of a labour market undergoing considerable change over the last generation, changing the character of work in ways which make young people less attractive propositions to employers.  In a youth labour market characterised by growing complexity, increasingly fractured transitions and employers demanding new skills, there is a call on schools to respond, notably, through improved careers education advice information and guidance, by the introduction of better preparation for recruitment and embracing approaches which enhance personal resiliency and the ability to apply knowledge effectively in unfamiliar situations.  In all of this, there is a very simple proposition: that for young people to go into the labour market with better prospects, the distance between the classroom and the workplace needs to be narrowed.

* The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher; Professor Chris Husbands (head of the UCL Institute of Education); Professor Ewart Keep, chair of Education, Training and Skills at the University of Oxford; Professor Lorna Unwin of the Journal of Vocational Education and Training; Professor Hugh Lauder of the Journal of Education and Work; David Pollard (of the Federation of Small Businesses); Peter Cheese (of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development); and Kay Carberry of the Trades Union Congress.


OECD work on skills: Skills.oecd
How should our schools respond to the demands of the twenty first century labour market? Eight perspectives. 
Skills beyond School Synthesis Report
Skills Outlook
How does educational attainment affect participation in the labour market?
Photo credit: Are you ready? Written on the road @shutterstock

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