From education to employment

The education sector urgently needs to engage young people and employers directly

Stavros Yiannouka is CEO of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE)

A recent survey conducted by IPSOS on behalf of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) and JobTeaser produced seemingly paradoxical results.

Over 75% of Europeans aged 18-25 surveyed expressed optimism about the impact of new technologies on the future of work, and their own readiness to embrace this future.

At the same time, only a minority (less than 50%) believe that the formal education system (high school and university) has prepared them adequately for the job market.

This apparent paradox then begs the question:

  1. Is the formal education system at risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant in terms of the career aspirations of young people today and in the future; and if so,
  2. What can the upper secondary and higher education sector do to arrest a drift towards irrelevance?

Data for higher education reinforce the notion that we are dealing with a paradox.

Demand for, and enrollment in, higher education continues to increase around the world in lock step with growth in per capita gross domestic wealth. Simply put, as people and societies become more affluent, they demand more education at a higher level.

However, there is also evidence to suggest that at least since the turn of the century, the world’s young people have been engaged in an educational qualifications arms race in order to compete for a relatively smaller number of well remunerated jobs.

Vocations that previously required a high school diploma now require a college degree, and those that required a college degree now require a masters. Our survey lends some support to this view with a significant majority of both young people – and employers – agreeing that the job market places too much emphasis on formal educational qualifications.

Surely then, if nothing changes, it is only a matter of time before educational qualifications are replaced by better indicators of proficiency and readiness for the job market.

This need not be the case. Indeed our survey points the way forward in terms of what the higher education sector can do to reinvigorate itself and regain its relevance for young people.

To do this, the education sector needs to engage young people and employers directly in order to understand their needs.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Firstly, the young people we surveyed identify so called “soft skills”, such as critical thinking, communication, and teamwork, as key for success in the job market. Employers agree, but they also add qualities such as resilience, adaptability, and the capacity to self-educate, as being equally important.
  2. Secondly, our survey reveals that over 75% of young people and employers agree that vocational schools are the institutions that best prepare young people for the future of work. This is further reinforced by the finding that over 60% of young people surveyed believe that exposure to the work place through internships and project-based learning during their studies is essential, while 35% believe it is important. It is also encouraging to find that employers are ready to engage – with 90% ready to provide input to higher education institutions in terms of how to prepare young people for the workplace.
  3. Finally, young people in Europe are asking for more career advice and support from their educational institutions as they seek to navigate an increasingly complex and variable job market. Institutions of higher learning must therefore invest in developing higher quality career advisory services as an integral part of their educational offerings, and not as an afterthought.

Institutions of higher learning in Europe have a window of opportunity to adapt their educational offerings to meet the career aspirations of young people and the employment needs of business.

At present, only a small minority of young people and employers believe that formal educational qualifications will be replaced any time soon.

However, if nothing changes, that window may soon begin to close.

Stavros Yiannouka is CEO of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE)  =

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