Rather than the current stalemate, the working and education spheres need to better complement one another, says Martin Reed
After the GCSE controversies earlier this year, with Ofsted’s Chief Schools Inspector calling for an overhaul of the system and exam boards called into question over their grading policies, the relationship between educational establishments and the businesses they feed is sure to have been further damaged by the uncertainty of the current system.
In my column last month I mentioned that SMEs need to bear in mind that the structure and content of our education system has been changing for decades, adapted by successive governments, the result of which is employers feel they can no longer rely on school and college qualifications as a reliable indicator of an individual’s skills, knowledge and aptitude.
This summer’s furore, and the resulting flurry of media coverage, can only have deepened that lack of trust between businesses and the education sector. But rather than circling each other with distrust, the bond between the commercial and educational arenas actually needs to become stronger and a reciprocal relationship between the two established.
I strongly believe there is an opportunity for businesses and secondary phase learning centres to work more closely together to mutual benefit. With that in mind Thomas Education was launched this summer to help bridge the gap between the education system and the world of work. As a business owner myself, I understand that employers want the assurance of knowing that students who come through the education system are clued up on what employers need and have the skills to be able to perform in a professional environment. While academia for its own sake is clearly a vital part of our national curriculum, I believe employers also need the reassurance that schools give young people the tools to understand where their natural strengths lie, develop a high degree of self awareness and identify the types of work they are best suited for. Without those elements, both school leavers and recruiters will waste valuable time and resources narrowing the field, especially in an era where exam results are no longer taken as gospel.
It’s reassuring to know that it’s not just this side of the pond that struggles with the relationship between the two different sectors. A recent American report concluded that businesses need to be more forceful and not merely ‘pawns’ if they want to change schools for the better. I believe that we all need to be more forceful about taking responsibility for the quality of school leavers and their readiness for work. The recently released American report was entitled ‘What It Takes for Business to Help Drive School Reform: Partnership Is a Two-Way Street’ – a sentiment I strongly agree with and one of the reasons why organisations like ours, need to do what they can to bridge the divide.
Thomas Education has been founded to specialise in, among other things, providing impartial careers advice, helping young people identify the types of work for which they are best suited, and giving them the confidence and motivation to make decisions about careers and further education. Although traditional career guidance provides support on CV writing, interview skills, etc. it often fails to make the final link between education and work and really help young people understand to the actions needed to gain employment. I feel honoured that we’re in a position to bring our 30 years experience in the business world to the education sector and I’m certain that many other businesses are also in a position to offer their commercial knowledge to learning centres in desperate need of ‘catching up’ with the professional industries. Our solution differs from many existing career advice options as all our counsellors come from a business background and have interviewed thousands of individuals seeking employment. This interaction with business professionals is vital if we want the next generation of employees to be up to speed when they leave formal education.
For any business which cares about the quality of future generations of school leavers, taking the initiative to partner with schools is worth consideration. The education system often lacks the commercial experience to bring a management mindset to their situation, or the knowledge that business models can be useful to education. Businesses across the UK can make contact with local schools and enter into a discussion of how they can work together. There are plenty of ways to get involved, depending on your company’s area of expertise – mentoring sessions, speaking to students, work experience placements, lesson planning with a business focus or even, as with Thomas Education, offering a tailored commercial service.
When future school leavers come out of education well educated, professional, switched on and ready to hit the ground running, the effects will benefit us all.