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Education's Information Asymmetry

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The news that the British economy contracted in the last quarter of 2012 was utterly depressing. For young people it was especially unwelcome.

Youth jobless figures remain stubbornly high at 20.5%. But against a backdrop of austerity and a flat economy I can't help but feel that these difficulties will continue for some time.

There's not a whole lot that young people can do. Young people are the unfortunate prisoners to the very unfortunate circumstances.

There is one thing that does need to be done and that can be done. That's to address the education system's information asymmetry. By this I mean the misalignment between education and the world of work.

In a perfect world there would be a two-way flow of information between the world of education and the world of work. However in many places of learning the lines of communication remain blocked.

Two very serious and negative effects spill over from this reality.

Firstly, employers fail to communicate the skills needed for work.

Due to the information misalignment educators continually fail to properly inform, prepare and equip young people with the skills and know how needed to succeed in the professional and working world. Without basic job skills young people are essentially unemployable in a down economy.

Secondly, employers fail to communicate oversupply or undersupply.

Due to the information misalignment employers fail to indicate where the opportunities lie in the job market. For example, there may be lots of job potential in engineering but little opportunity in law.
But if employers don't indicate this, and if educators don't communicate this, young people will make uninformed career choices that may lead them to nowhere.

Some young people have the good fortune to be able to counter the information asymmetry. A few have well informed, well connected parents and family who help them to bridge the information gap. Other young people have the wherewithal to inform themselves.

But by and large these are the exceptions. The general rule is that young, impressionable people are not going to possess the initiative to properly align themselves to the job market.

So what can we do?

We need to open up the lines of communication and realign education to the world of work.

Firstly, educators need to teach young people the context and methodology of professional practice.
This may well mean bringing employers into the classroom. But it may also mean bringing young people into regular contact with the world of work.

We've already seen some positive signs. The coalition government have recently unveiled plans to push professional apprenticeships. This is a step in the right direction but more of this kind of work needs to be done.

Secondly, employers and educators need to communicate to young people which parts of the job market are growing and which are declining.

Young people need to make informed and market-minded decisions before choosing a career. If a profession like law is haemorrhaging jobs then you best have a good solution to beating the odds.

It's an utter travesty without qualification for a young person in want of a job to be unemployed. But it's equal if not more a travesty to see young people go through education uninformed about the world of work and uninformed about where the job potential lies.

There's never going to be a situation of perfect information but the current setup which sees the world of education strictly divorced from the world of work is ostensibly wrong. By realigning and bridging the two worlds we could move some way towards doing right upon our young people.

I welcome and applaud some of the recent developments. But more needs to be done. I am particularly drawn to the employer led-project learning model which fosters real employability skills. These have been unveiled in some parts of the country.

For my mind this new model represents the future of education and I look forward to exploring the emerging education paradigm in a later post.