McKinsey’s recent study Education to Employment throws up challenges for everyone involved in education. It examines 100 education-to-employment initiatives from 25 countries trying to find the cause of what McKinsey calls “the twin crises of a shortage of jobs and a shortage of skills”.

Ara Ohanian
CEO & Chief Happiness Officer

The results are both fascinating and disturbing.

Here are two facts the report highlights: half of youth is not sure that post-secondary education has improved chances of finding a job; almost 40 percent of employers say a lack of skills is the main reason for entry-level vacancies.

The research examines the differing perceptions of employers, education providers and the young. And tries to establish how to, in the words of the report, design a system that works.

Underlying the report is the assumption that the post-secondary education sector exists to support employment and is able to.

I would question that assumption. McKinsey points out that most attempts to provide education leading to employment fail. The reasons are complex but to quote the report, “employers, education providers, and youth live in parallel universes”. And there are legitimate reasons for this. By their very nature education providers cannot move at the speed required to support the rapidly changing world of skills at work. By this I don’t mean fundamental skills of reading, writing and arithmetic nor indeed the skill of fluency with information technology – it’s education’s job to supply these and if it doesn’t then it has failed.

We should also expect the educational system to provide skills and knowledge in areas that change slowly. Linguists, doctors and structural engineers all work in fields that require a solid foundation of knowledge and skills which should be provided through a substantial process of formal education.

A third thing we should demand from our education system, which sadly it does not always provide, is a generation of bright, creative graduates capable of critical thinking and problem solving. Forbes has published a great article on The 10 Skills That Will Get You Hired In 2013 which everyone should read.

However, it’s my take that it’s unreasonable to assume that a university, college or school will ever be able to equip someone with skills for faster changing industries such as web design, social marketing, at least not without a radical change in the way they deliver their training.

Currently, post-secondary education relies on curriculums put together over a course of months and years and delivered over a course of years. That simply won’t cut it for employers nor for the young. There are signs though that the more enlightened higher-education establishments and people seeking skills are looking for new ways to engage with each other which can only be to the benefit of the third party– employers.

Friday 14th saw the launch in the UK of an initiative which shows that a revolution in higher education, which started in the US, is spreading like wildfire. Twelve British universities have combined to offer MOOCs under the aegis of the Open University as reported in The Times

This is the beginning of a shift in educational provision which will rapidly change the way we look at formal learning, higher education, and skills for employability.

Within a few years I predict that higher education institutions will offer wide range of courses, from the free to the degree, with very different aims. Degrees will continue to be for the long-term and except, where skills are predictable and slow changing, less geared toward employment. The shorter course (delivered mostly online and to audiences globally) will be mostly geared towards employment.

Until now, post-secondary establishments haven’t had the flexibility to deliver training that could really meet employment needs. Technology is about the change that and employers and young people alike should all cheer.

Ara Ohanian
Chief Happiness Officer & CEO, CERTPOINT Systems

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