I was recently clearing out some old papers from the loft when I came across a newspaper cutting from the early 1980s. Entitled ‘What employers want’ it was a report of speech given by the director of the Manpower Services Commission at an NUT conference. It included a list of what employees wanted from school leavers:
- the ability to read, write and do arithmetic
- some understanding of the need to produce and sell goods at prices people could afford
- an appreciation of the need to work consistently, quickly and accurately, and to be punctual
- an understanding of the different types of jobs and industries
- the ability to communicate, to join in group discussions, and to use a phone
- the ability to produce practical solutions to everyday problems
- the capacity to learn from experience
- the ability to get on with a range of people, and to recognise the need to share knowledge and skills with them
The speaker also called for a new look at the the effect of university entry qualifications on decisions about which courses of study to follow in school ‘that go far beyond traditional academic disciplines‘. He called for subjects to be grouped with clear academic and vocational aims, and that ‘a new approach is required‘ to improve young people’s knowledge of the world of work than is covered in the traditional curricula.
Now, there’s more to education than simply preparing people for the world of work of course, but nonetheless, some thirty years later, we are still pursuing a university-led system in which vocationally-related areas of study are seen to be soft options. And the basic needs of employers are still under-valued in terms of formal assessment, particularly when one now adds in such things as team-work and flexibility. At the same time thousands of school leavers with sound academic A level qualifications are now having to look for employment instead of gaining a place at a university.
But I guess there is one thing that has improved since the early 1980s – now at least, most young people seem to know how to use a phone…