THE BLOG

Education's Skills Asymmetry

04/06/2013 15:52 BST | Updated 30/07/2013 10:12 BST

Youth unemployment is a dire experience - bringing nothing but acreage of misery, despair and tedium. However it's altogether worse when all of the misery is preventable.

How can that be so?

Well because of two reasons: educators in Great Britain are firstly failing to provide young people with the correct career information and then secondly failing to equip them with the necessary skills to actually do the job.

Ok, that's a little heavy. Here's my position on the two points:

On the first point I've talked previously about Education's Information Asymmetry.

This is the situation where the world of education is disconnected from the real world of work on information terms. This gap in information is manifested through the shocking absence of career advice. And where career guidance is given, it's shocking in its disgraceful lack of value - either way educator's are storing up a big problem.

Namely: ill-informed educators encourage ill-informed young people (entirely dependent on their educators to be well informed) down a career path - such as law or a similarly challenged sector - where jobs are scarce, and where there is little or no demand for labour. The end result of this is a dead end: either withering unemployment or a period of "churn" where young people have to re-skill and align themselves to a section of the labour market where there is demand.

But young people should never have had to have reached that point - it's both a waste of time the Inefficient Allocation of Human Resources.

All sensible logic screams out that young people should pursue a career choice where jobs are plentiful and where there is at least a good chance of finding employment. However Educators seem to have completely missed this obvious point.

You can read two articles on the information asymmetry, Teen Job 'Information Gap' and also Teens Aspire to Wrong Jobs in the FT (£).

The sinister off-shoot of this first point involves old style nepotism: the cosy, opaque and unquestioned practice where well-informed parents close the information gap thanks to their contact book and friends in high places. The hard reality is that most young people cannot avail of a well-connected parent or family member. Robert Peston touched on this in his blog here. However this is a discussion for another day and I fully intend to come back to this.

Now onto the second and main point of this essay - the other serious reason why the employability prospects of young people are so dire. That being: Education's Skills Asymmetry. While Education's Information Asymmetry involves pre-university education, Education's Skills Asymmetry involves university education.

I'll try and keep this simple. Even when a young person overcomes the problem of Education's Information Asymmetry and chooses a career path that is likely to lead to employment, they often confront another problem. That being the fact that a university education can often fail to equip them with the necessary skills required of them by the labour market.

The result? Again, either withering unemployment or an extended period of "churn" - only in this instance the given young person has to up-skill as opposed to having to start from scratch and completely re-skill as noted in the first point.

Read an article in the Irish Independent here about how 'Colleges are not equipping IT graduates with the necessary skills to get a job, company executives have warned'.

On the two points: what an absolute and unmitigated farce. How are we as a nation to properly compete in the global race that David Cameron loves to bat on about if our education system is so dysfunctional on all levels?

The bottom line is that we need a 'pipeline' education system and 'pipeline' learning. By that I mean that the route between education and the world of work needs to be one continuous process. A process in which the real world feeds into the education process, and by doing so feeds into and informs the young person (gives them the information) and gives them the skills needed to do the job.

We have seen encouraging movements typified by the creation of the Learning to Work Campaign by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) which encourages employers to build links with schools and universities.

By bringing the real world into the classroom we can both inform educators and the young people they teach. Thereby bringing information symmetry between the world of education and the world of work; and bringing a skills symmetry between the world of education and the world of work.

This will not tackle all the evils of unemployment - of which there are many more causes - but it would go a far way to making significant contributions to the employability and work-readiness levels of our young people.