THE BLOG
21/10/2013 09:39 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

John Armitt - Remaking Education To Make Young People Work-Ready

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The economy has changed beyond all description in recent years. Unfortunately schools and the university curricula haven't. This has caused massive problems. The main being that our young people don't have the skills, knowledge or awareness to properly participate in the high-tech, high-skill economy of the 21st century.

And don't be mistaken, our young people are running in a global race. As Jullien Gordon said to Generation Y during his TEDx Youth talk:

"You are competing against everyone in your age group in the entire world. So what are you going to do to stand out?" The world is now flat because of globalisation and the expansion of the internet."

There can be only one solution to the educational sclerosis as highlighted by the OECD, the FT and other reports: schooling at all stages needs to change. Speaking personally, leaving university in 2010 with a degree in Law and French was an assault to the senses. Both my skill-set and and knowledge profile was spectacularly out of step with the demands of the local and national labour market. From this position I was wholly unemployable. I was in despair and I doubly despaired for those who didn't have the same educational opportunities that I've enjoyed.

Writing was my outlet. Everything I've written ever since has, one way or another, been against the disastrous lack of symmetry between what educators teach and what employers demand. And rather encouragingly, John Armitt, chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority, has provided a prognosis and prescription to the current ills that echo much of what I've called for over the last 2 years.

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And let me say: Dear educators, university chiefs, politicians and businesses, make no mistake, the recent article in The Spectator by John Armitt should stand as a landmark policy moment. John Armitt three main points.

Firstly:

"We need to see much greater involvement from employers in curriculum design. The emergence of University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools has been a huge boost to the status of technical education. But they are able to cater to only a tiny proportion of young people.

We must raise the amount of vocational training in every school as early as possible in a young person's education. And, this must be built on the foundation of strong numeracy and literacy skills. We need to encourage schools and business to work together to create a stimulating, creative, and challenging curriculum that stretches young people and prepares them for life outside the classroom."

This chimes mightily with what I've said on this website (here, here and here) that 'Education is Not an Island Entire of Itself'. The effect of this absolute separation between schooling and the real world has been what I called 'Education's information asymmetry' which fails young people. That's why we need, as John Armitt has said, a joined up approach so that the two world's share information and thereby improve the transition of the young person from education to work.

Secondly (and this speaks for itself):

"How can young people know what to expect from work if they've never had any exposure to it? By the time I was 17, I had worked as a butcher's boy, at a Naval Dockyard, and at Tesco stocking shelves. All of these jobs taught me something about not only the world of work, but about myself. At 17, I had my first job in construction which started my career in the industry. My employer took a chance on me and had faith in my ability to learn - which I did through a mix of on the job experience and technical training. This has served as a foundation for my career.

Eighty per cent of employers believe work experience is essential. I certainly agree. We need to see greater focus on ensuring that young people have access to high quality work placements as part of their formal education. A national standard that provides clear guidelines for employers and schools shouldn't be beyond our grasp."

I felt this with absolute brutality, finding out when I graduated that 'All theory and no practice makes Jack an unemployable boy.' This was another lack of symmetry, this time what I called 'Education's Skills Asymmetry'. It's now undisputed that an education should not and can not be taught in 'abstract isolation' from the outside working world. For, as Michael Oakeshott rightly said in his book, 'In Experience and Its Modes': "Great achievements are accomplished in the mental fog of practical experience."

The mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel is now implementing this form of joined-up educational experience across schools in his city. He said on the Charlie Rose show: "We have to put the package together for them: the tutoring, the mentoring, and the job experience are all part of the single package so they can get the continuity of it and the value at the end of the process."

Thirdly, John Armitt proposed:

"We need to expand young people's horizons from a much earlier age - tell them that they can be engineers, or inventors, or doctors, and show them how to get there. In a 2012 City & Guilds survey, 3,000 seven to 18 year olds told us that they want to learn about the world of work in primary school. A year on, we know that is still not happening on a national scale.

Work experience, along with more done in the classroom to raise awareness of the opportunities available, is crucial if we are to have an education and skills system that meets the needs of every young person and every business. By establishing strong local partnerships, schools and employers can respond to this challenge."

As Jullien Gordon said during his Ted Talk we need to awaken young people to the enormous plasticity and elasticity and wondrous opportunities that life in the 21st Century holds. YOUR life is your vehicle to design, drive and maintain and the destination can be anywhere YOU wish it to be.