The image of education, particularly secondary and post-secondary education, has been mostly static for decades: the idea of lectures, textbooks and homework spring to mind. But we are increasingly seeing that image change.
It has become clear that in order to prepare the next generation of the workforce, students need to be equipped with skills and experience that goes beyond the traditional curriculum.
Curriculum enhanced by industry
In the past, students only had to worry about demonstrating a willingness to learn new systems and processes on the job to be an eligible candidate for a role after education. Today, however, with technology evolving at such a fast pace, employers increasingly expect potential employees to have a certain baseline of skills before starting the job; having experience of using the relevant systems certainly gives an advantage during the recruitment process.
The technology used in the workplace varies greatly from sector to sector; from patient management systems in hospitals, to room-booking systems in hotels, and sales systems in businesses. The programmes will differ, but the foundations needed, including self-management, teamwork and computational thinking share one thing – every industry needs them. It is now up to education institutions to work closely with people in the industry to understand what skills their students will need to be successful in their future careers.
Following recent government pushes for industry and education to work more closely together, some schools have developed committees who meet with local organisations working in industries of the future, to understand the skillsets they look for in the people that they hire. These conversations can help schools determine what should be included in the curriculum, and enable discussion about the ways in which they can mutually benefit each other. Examples may include inviting the industry leaders in for career days or by promoting internships and job openings to students.
Cultural Soft Skills
With a growing number of students travelling abroad for their education and career, and with the job market set to become increasingly competitive, the skills that we equip our students with must extend beyond those found in theories and textbooks. If education lacks a focus on soft skills, students are unlikely to be seen as well-rounded contenders for a job. This is why careers content including advice on interview skills and the labour market have become popular in secondary schools, and not just in PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education).
There are many open access online learning systems that students can use to develop these vital skills. These often include numerous high quality and relevant resources, such as videos of what to do and what not to do at an interview, and advice on everyday work experiences; all valuable information that is often missed in traditional academic courses.
However, as you would expect, much of the important training is best carried out face to face. Being able to demonstrate communication skills and a familiarity with cultural norms, such as arriving to the interview on time and giving a firm handshake, are areas that are best learned through practice. Some schools have shown that career readiness can be started as early as primary school; this can be done by periodically questioning students’ on their future career goals, setting pupils projects that involve researching a job they are interested in or getting them to interview adults on the work that they do.
With the UK government poised to implement benchmarks for schools including a set number of career interactions, field trips would be a great way to give students insight into their future jobs. Within the classroom, simple training sessions that involve mock interviews can be remarkably useful. Guidance on how to present themselves for interviews and prompts to prepare them for the types of questions they may be asked can benefit students who plan to go into higher education and those going straight into a career.
International learning communities
Another area of education that is becoming more popular with the increasing move towards globalisation is the concept of learning communities. Learning communities refer not just to communities of students within a school, sharing ideas and experiences, but also to broader partnerships between multiple institutions of differing disciplines or cultures.
At its most basic, learning communities aim to facilitate the sharing of information. With the development of better tools, most notably the internet, these communities have improved and expanded. The sheer size and scope of learning communities is now, in a word, global. People based on different continents are able to communicate and to focus on the areas that unite them, sharing best practice and debating topical issues.
The idea spread from universities whose partnership stemmed from research, but this has become a model that is achievable for all schools. The British Council has recognised the benefits for pupils and teachers at these schools and now facilitates the matchmaking of schools from different cultures. The opportunity to collaborate with students from other cultures improves everyone’s understanding and acceptance of differing practices, which is crucial in today’s globalised workplace.
In a world that has seemingly shrunk as technology has advanced, the ability to benefit from non-traditional practices is no longer limited to those pursuing higher education. The adoption of these practices at all levels of education stands to position our students as informed and prepared prospective employees once they complete their education and enter the modern workplace.