STUDENT LIFE / NOV. 08, 2013
version 10, draft 10

Today's School Leavers Less Prepared for Work Than in 1851

School leavers in 1851 were better prepared to enter the job market than children are today, according to research by Learndirect, UK’s leading online learning provider. The research suggests that the school curriculum of 160 years ago was far better suited to preparing young people to embark on career! Something that may spark quite the debate between educational authorities, teachers and parents!

Back then...

Pupils in the Victorian times took classes that matched the job market trends of their time.  In the 19 the school curriculum included subjects such as housework, agriculture, knitting and shoe making and the top industries at that time were agriculture, domestic service, textiles, laboring and bookmaking; a perfect match! Nowadays the 'popular' industries have changed dramatically. More than 4 million Britons work in the wholesale and retail trade, 3.3 million are employed in the health/social work sector and 2.6 million are working in the education field. And for the first time, professional, scientific and technical activities are among the top ten popular occupations in the UK, showing the impact of technology and the rise of the professional services industry. This means that the subjects that school children ought to learn today, should mirror these major industries. Forget mandatory French classes, introduce mandatory IT classes! Teach them what is relevant. 

Dereth Wood, Director of Learning Policy and Strategy, at Learndirect stated that: “In today’s competitive and pressurised business world, employers are crying out for problem solving skills and people who can analyse information and make decisions. More time needs to be spent on learning these crucial workplace skills which will enable people to access the top jobs of tomorrow.”  

In the Victorian times, the curriculum used to be more rounded, providing pupils with a wealth of hard and soft skills and preparing them for working in the real world. Nowadays, education primarily focuses on hard skills rather than soft skills. Children need to learn how to work as a team player, think logically, analyse problems and develop soultions, think creatively and work well under pressure.

It’s time to challenge the university ‘default route’

Further to this, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report reveals that traditional university degrees do not necessarily meet the needs of key industries today. The CBI warns businesses to deal with the perception that A-levels followed by a three-year course is the only route to a good career, because relying  solely on a university degree will not meet the growing demand for technical skills in key sectors such as manufacturing, construction, IT and engineering.

The authors of the report say more young people should be encouraged to take technical and vocational courses which they say have long been undersold and should have parity of esteem with academic routes. British Prime Minister, David Cameron also argued that Britain’s education system was failing the country’s youngsters and underlined that the UK needed to do more to match its education with the needs of its industries. This is the point in its entirety: we need to teach children skills that they will actually use in later life, just like they did in 1851. They got it right over 100 years ago, what is our excuse?

On the whole, the findings of the research point out the necessity to equip school leavers with the right skills needed for the contemporary workplace. In my opinion, this could be achieved by restructuring the school curriculum. It is vital that schools introduce subjects that place deeper emphasis on vocational, communication and networking skills that are transferable to the modern job industry.

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