Is education doing enough to prepare children for the world of work?
A famous quote by Aristotle states: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man”. Despite that saying being in desperate need of an update to include the word 'woman', the point it makes is still clear.
For all our modernity and technology, it can sometimes feel like society isn’t moving forward as fast as it should when it comes to preparing its children for the world of work. In fact the gap seems to be getting wider with more young people being unprepared for life, and educators beating their breasts trying to think up new ways to bridge the gap between education and work.
Rewind 100 years to the industrial revolution, a time where the opposite was the case and children knew more about a life of work than of education. The question is, has society moved too far in the opposite direction and has technology moved us so far forward that it is in fact hampering younger generations?
Studies already show that attention spans have shortened to an average of 30-second news bites, and social skills are suffering through a lack of face-to-face interactions.
Right now, we're seeing wide intergenerational gaps because tech wasn’t around for some such as Baby Boomers, and only partially around for others such as Gen X. Today everyone wants to find ways to bridge that gap between education and work but seems to forget one important ingredient, which is that young people should not only be taught about the world of work but also sometimes just shown how to work and how to develop a work ethic (without actually sending them back to the workhouses of the past!).
Back in the seventies for instance, children were often asked at school to sweep the classroom, clean up the tables in the lunchroom or pick up the trash in the schoolyard, taken on volunteering assignments, or they earned pocket money at home by doing chores. Nowadays, any school that implemented such policies would be accused of child exploitation and at least some parents would be outraged, despite the valuable lessons that nothing comes for free, and in the instilling of confidence in a job well done.
But that’s only a small part of the bigger picture. One of the main issues that needs to be overcome in education is stereotyping. Much has been done on that front this century and we're still only two decades in. The charity Education and Employers ran an 'Inspiring the Future' campaign which spelled it out in a video showing children in a classroom drawing their impressions of a surgeon, a fighter pilot and a fire officer. Of course the children all draw men in those roles. Three people then entered the class in working gear and when they lift their helmets and mask, they're all women.
The tagline says: Gender stereotypes are defined between the ages of five and seven (thank you, Aristotle!).
More schools need to take this diverse approach when bringing in various people to talk about career opportunities. Three white middle-aged men in suits are unlikely to connect with at least half, if not more of the children in the class.
But, it's not only up to educators to knock down stereotypes. Parents also need to play their part and to instill self-confidence in their children to choose a career they’d like. Parents can also tend to push kids towards a university education, but both parents and teachers can encourage apprenticeships and vocational training opportunities too.
Both schools and universities must work with the business community, taking students to see how the world of work operates, and even let them get involved for a day.
How many universities offer practical training to prepare students for the world of work? Could they do more in the realms of offering advice, helping with CVs, setting up mock interviews, taking students to do volunteer work, any number of ways to close the gap between learning and doing.
Government, employers, educators should all be looking at ways to coordinate their efforts to uncover the treasure trove of hidden talent that's out there. Students who do part-time work or intern during the study years tend to fare better when entering full-time employment for the first time. Employers want people who can hit the ground running, people who are innovative, who are capable of taking the initiative, who interact well with others, and who want to keep learning for as long as they can. In this respect, they must also offer that learning and training to keep Millennials, especially, interested in the job.
Achieving all of this really does all boil down to early education and the example children receive at home and at school.
To enhance life-skills, education should be about teaching children not 'what to think' in every instance, but 'how to think' through the use of problem-solving, and questioning; to be taught not 'what the answer is' but how the answer was reached through use of their thinking processes. Above all it's about teaching a passion for learning that a young person will carry with them into their chosen career.
It's the job of society to turn out a better generation than the one that came before so that the human race can move forward to create a generation of women and men capable of doing new things; not merely repeating what previous generations have done before them.