Education: A Silo, Entire of Itself (Part 3)

25/09/2012 09:57 BST | Updated 24/11/2012 10:12 GMT

Unfortunately there's not going to be a quick fix to the youth unemployment crisis. However we can learn lessons from this prolonged period of youth joblessness and pass them on to future generations; so next time the economy goes belly up, young people will not be the primary victims of the down turn.

We need to prepare for just such an eventuality. Here's how.

In the first two posts of this series I argued that the British education system, being decoupled from the world of work, is failing to properly equip young men and women with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a professional career.

By not fostering interplay between the world of education (both school and university) and the world of work too many young people leave their respective place of education illiterate in the ways of the world of wage earning.

To counter this we need to pull down the silo walls that surround education and the silo walls that fence in the world of work and sustain its air of mysticism. Imagine: if we had real, genuine, sustained and targeted interplay between the two worlds, wouldn't it be easier for the young person to decide what they want to be? Then, wouldn't it be easier for that young person to properly prepare themselves with the skills and insights needed?

Germany has just such a vocational education system and its youth unemployment hasn't moved beyond 8% in recent times. So that's the target. If we could erect just such a system our young people would be empowered with the skills and insights needed to tackle any economic turbulence.

Like the last post in the series I want to take a quick look at an individual story which illustrates the point. This time we will look at Andy whose experience of education and work came together in tandem, allowing him to transition seamlessly into full time employment.

Here's his story.

Andy wasn't the smartest, but he wasn't the dumbest. He enjoyed school ok and at GCSE, AS and A2 he did averagely: he got two Bs and a C at A2. His interests and strengths lay in languages and particularly German.

He applied to a couple of universities to study German and fortunately enough he received a number of offers and was able to move to uni without great difficulty. Immediately he enjoyed his time at university; the freedom and the sense of being an adult was empowering. Andy didn't exactly excel but attended classes and passed his first year exams with no major problems.

Andy's mum was an experienced partner in a London law firm and had always kept a keen eye on Andy's education and career development. Being experienced in the ways of the corporate world and being particularly well connected she was well positioned to give Andy a foot up on the career ladder.

One day his mum phoned Andy and said that he would be working that summer in a German bank in London called Deutsche Bank. Andy had never thought about working or even getting work experience; he was too busy having fun at university. But then again it was a big swanky bank and was German; and Andy liked German so he came round to the idea very quickly.

Andy's mum had called a friend in the industry and sorted out the summer internship over a phone call.

Andy started the internship in June and carried on until the end of August and really loved it. All of a sudden the world of work was real, it was exciting and he could literally taste the ambition and the money. Andy wanted this lifestyle badly.

So Andy made a lot of contacts and went back to university with a clear idea of what he wanted to do and be. With the goal firmly in his head he applied himself rigorously and his grades rocketed. He then spent the following summer and the summer after that in the bank. He even got a spell in Frankfurt and Berlin.

Then at the end of the his third summer internship Andy was told there was a graduate position coming up and that he was well positioned to take it. Andy went for interview and with the 3 summers of experience he was well versed in the banking industry and knew the questions inside out.

As expected Andy got the position. He was overjoyed.

Stories like Andy's are quite common and show the benefits that can come from bringing a vocational edge to a university degree. It gives the degree course focus and an end goal and above all gives the student contacts, experience and firsthand knowledge.

Unfortunately not everybody has a well connected mum or dad, brother, sister, aunty or uncle. However that should not preclude others from enjoying the same sort of opportunities that Andy enjoyed.

That's why a few things need to change to bring an equality of opportunity to the education system.

Firstly, the education system must become vocational so that young people can see what the world of work is really like. Then they decide what they want to be and they can work on those skills needed.

Secondly, not everyone has Andy's mum, that's why mentoring and big brother and sister figures are needed. Children from affluent houses and backgrounds always have a head start however this doesn't always have to be this way.

Yes there are more sinister issues at the root of the current youth joblessness however these two recommendations would go a long way to lessening the problem.