Skills ain’t wot they used to be
Crystal Jones, from the MPower Group, wrote a blog on the subject ‘Education vs Reality‘, in which she questioned the relevance of today’s school and university education to the needs of modern business. She highlights in particular skills such as project management, teamwork, leadership or handling ‘difficult’ people.
I enjoyed reading Crystal’s thoughts, although I think the challenge she highlights has existed throughout history; there are commentators in most eras who complain that formal education fails to prepare people for the future or for the roles they need to play in society of the time.
One might argue that educational basics are more about creating a framework of knowledge and a capability to learn, rather than the skills associated with deploying that learning. After all, what is the point of being a great communicator if you have nothing of substance to communicate (yes, I know, in that case you become a politician); what likelihood is there that you would be a valued member of a project team if you did not have in-depth subject matter knowledge to contribute etc.
The world could not operate with everyone being – or aspiring to be – a leader. Indeed, there are many who would argue that the US ‘problem’ (if it has one) is the inability of today’s emerging workers to subjugate themeselves to the disciplines of leadership and followership. They all believe they are great communicators and – even worse -have really interesting things to say. Their parents and the schools exhibit far too much respect for their vacuous ideas and sub-standard work because it is so important not to undermine self-esteem. And this has created a generation that is convinced about its own abilities, that there is no need to apply effort to learning, that their in-built ‘skills’ are sufficient in themselves to merit high-paying employment.
Maybe Seth Godin (whose work Crystal references) is completely wrong in his analysis that the education system is outdated. Perhaps it is the tendency to impose too little discipline, too little expectation that each individual must actually prove their merits and too little of the substantive context that allows people to flourish in the world of work.
A final point. In the past, most people wanted to join big companies or work for large local employers. Today, according to The Economist, about 65% want to be ‘entrepreneurs’. So that suggests there is in fact already a massive change in aspiration – and maybe it isn’t the education system at fault, but the wider social infrastructure that is failing to free up all that talent to communicate, lead and manage projects.
But before we leap to that conclusion, it is important to understand what they mean by the word ‘entrepreneur’. For most, it means being self-employed, working from home and not having the discipline of a regular job. So what it actually indicates is that we are perhaps raising new generations that are far more self-indulgent and wanting to work on their own terms. Quite where that is taking us, I don’t know – but it doesn’t suggest that teamwork or leadership are especially big on the agenda. As for communication, I am sure Facebook will take care of that!