Lessons in productivity must be learned in the classroom

A solution to the UK’s productivity problem may be found in the workers of
the future, as long as business and education work together to produce a wide
range of options to cater for all abilities

There is an urgent need to address the link between skill deficiencies and
lower levels of productivity in the UK. While we welcomed the Government’s
recent reforms on 14 to 19 education, we now need to see concrete evidence that
this problem is being addressed.

Business has long been lobbying for an education system that matches the
needs of the economy, creates a highly-skilled and flexible workforce for the
future and eventually makes a significant contribution to improving
productivity and competitiveness.

From an employers’ perspective, the changes to the curriculum for 14 to 19
year olds, announced by David Milliband, will open the door to a more coherent,
responsive and relevant approach to learning which will deliver benefits across
the entire ability range and eventually to business.

It is often overlooked that school is not just where young people learn, it
is also a place where they receive their preparation for life and, in
particular, their working life.

Employers require well-rounded individuals who are capable of inquiry and
application, as well as being able to demonstrate a positive attitude towards
learning. They want to know what a young person has achieved and how they will
contribute to the success of their business.

In response, young people need to be able to demonstrate the skills and
attributes they have developed through a variety of learning experiences. So,
young people need to be exposed to as wide a range of learning experiences in
education as possible, including vocational and work-based learning.

For too long, vocational and work-based learning has been seen as a dumping
ground solely for the disaffected and disinclined, and for those with a poor
academic record.

While many young people have found a new motivation and inspiration for
learning in vocational education, this is largely due to the change in learning
styles and subject, rather than because non-academic qualifications are
"easier".

Vocational qualifications, such as Modern Apprenticeships in engineering,
are demanding and rigorous, reflecting the needs of an increasingly high-tech
industry. They are also a route to higher education which is just as valid as
academic A-levels.

The success of the reforms and future benefits to employers will depend
primarily on a range of factors.

The first is recognition, articulated by government, and taken up by
education, of the need for (and value of) a range of learning and
qualifications to be available to all, not just the disaffected. This means
those students who excel at school have the opportunity to explore a range of
learning, without fear of stigma or of compromising their future plans for
higher learning. It means an end to the view that those who reach high levels
of professional excellence through the work-based route have done it "the
hard way", and a recognition that structured learning in the workplace
provides skills which employers value.

Industry has a key part to play in delivering improvements to the range of
options offered to students.

It can provide high-quality work experience and business placements for
students, giving them the chance to develop skills which they will find useful
in whatever career they follow, and teaching them about the kinds of attitudes
and behaviours which make them ready for work.

It can also provide role models who know first-hand about working in a
particular job or sector. It can get involved in a whole range of initiatives
to bring schools and businesses closer – such as the Science and Engineering
Ambassadors Scheme, and sponsorship of specialist schools – and release staff
to contribute through school and college-governing bodies.

Aiding the acceleration of knowledge transfer links between business and
academia, with the creation of stronger university/business partnerships, will
undoubtedly help to address the UK’s long-term failure to translate the
strength of its science base into innovative and effective performance.

If the reforms are introduced in a realistic and well-supported manner, with
teachers, parents, students and employers all moving together, we think this
will be a significant step towards meeting the needs of industry and the
country as a whole.

By Martin Temple, Chief executive Engineering Employers’ Federation

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