During his Presidential campaign, Republican candidate Donald Trump made much of reviving the nation’s construction industry by undertaking big infrastructure projects which would create jobs. It’s true that the sector in the US employs 19 per cent fewer people than it did at the height of the housing boom in 2007, but given that a decade is a long time in technology, I wondered where the skilled workers might come from.
In Amsterdam the 3D printing firm MX3D is using a 3D printer with two modified axis robotic arms to print a steel bridge. It’s intended to be sited across the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal and could set a new paradigm for the sort of infrastructure projects Mr Trump is confident will revive the fortunes of the working class in the States.
Which brings me to the Ofsted report released a couple of weeks ago which concluded that the quality of ‘enterprise edcuation’ in schools is generally poor. Key findings included a varying level of priority amongst schools; a lack of assessment of impact; limited opportunities for meaningful work-related learning or work experience; involvement with local businesses often being uncoordinated and an uneven promotion of apprenticeships.
This is not surprising. The prioritisation by the Government - and Ofsted itself - on delivering exam results and EBacc subjects, leaves little room for work-related learning. Of course, academic attainment is important, but in our global digital economy, employers give as much, if not more weight to work-place skills such as communication or collaborative working.
There are pockets of excellence. Institutions like Career Colleges, Studio Schools and University Technical Colleges (UTCs) have close relationships with employers so workplace learning is embedded in the curriculum; project work, work experience and meeting employers all helps to make learning relevant to the world of work.
However, many schools are having to rely on ad hoc arrangements and depend on staff or parents’ personal contacts to provide work experience opportunities. It’s sad that the young people who would benefit most from work-related learning are the ones with the least social capital to draw on.
At UTCs I’ve visited, it’s been evident that students value teachers’ experience outside the classroom. So if the school’s specialism is engineering, for example, several members of the teaching staff will have been engineers before they joined the teaching profession. If no-one in your family or closest circle is an engineer or has any knowledge of the industry, then being in immediate contact with people who can share their experience in the sector with you is hugely beneficial.
Initiatives such as Business in Classrooms which Edge has helped to pilot in schools in Nottingham, send teachers on ‘externships’ to get a real understanding of and insight into how a business operates. Students then undertake a project investigating how the organisation works. For many of the most disadvantaged young people, this might be their first meaningful engagement with the world of work and their only opportunity to hear from professionals how they found their own career pathway.
The number of 19-24 years olds not in education, employment and training (NEET) was also published last week. The increase may be small (up from 15.4% in Quarter three of 2015, to 16.2% in Quarter three of 2016), but it still means that 675,000 young people are not receiving any kind of training or education and are unable to get a job.
Regular readers will be familiar with Edge’s campaign for a broader core curriculum or a A New Bacc. Not because we don’t recognize the value of academic qualifications, but because the work market demands more from young people than just grades.
Research released by King's College last week found that “77 per cent of ‘non-EBacc’ teachers now fear they will lose their jobs as result of the changes, while three quarters of respondents said they felt the EBacc had led to a narrowing of the key stage 4 curriculum offer in their schools.”
If the pressure to study such a narrow suite of subjects continues, I suggest those NEET figures will increase further.
Donald Trump is deluded if he thinks that infrastructure projects are going to generate low-level, unskilled jobs for America’s blue collar workers. These schemes need to recruit young people who can use computer aided design software (CAD) or have creative or problem-solving skills or can operate 3D printers.
The ambitious plans in the UK for HS2, Crossrail2 and major road upgrades will require a range of skills. In May Historic England published a report which concluded the number of archaeologists would need to increase by 25% to meet the demand generated by these projects.
Young people need to be equipped with 21st century skills for 21st century jobs and a curriculum devised at the turn of the century will fail them. Economic growth in our global digital economy relies on invention, creativity and technical skills, not the ability to build walls.