Education and skills: squaring the circle

April 2023’s Your voice in light industries reported that:

  • 59% of manufacturers think the education system is failing to rectify the skills gap;
  • only 39% think the skills gap is being taken seriously by government;
  • there is a lack of ‘joined up thinking’ between education, manufacturing and politicians; and
  • Community, representing educators and light industries employees, is ideally placed to engage with policy makers and bring them together.

Squaring the circle? 

There is always a lot of discussion when someone asks ‘what is the purpose of education?’  Everyone has an opinion, and that’s often based on where you are and what you do.  A business leader might suggest that education is about preparing people for work. A teacher might counter that education – learning – has a purpose of its own.

However we look at it, it’s important to remember that our schools and colleges are inextricably linked to the world of work, and that the skills and knowledge learned in education provide a foundation to be built on and developed in both higher education and the workplace.

In 2012, the government make sweeping reforms to education in England, stripping away many vocational pathways and coursework with a renewed focus on knowledge.  Teachers now have a vast curriculum they must teach, with pupils tested at the end of the course in final exams.  This change was in response to the idea that our pupils were not performing well enough academically.  But this doesn’t work for everyone, with many people learning best in bite-sized chunks.

Community believes we need a more varied curriculum, and continues to push for it to be revised whilst retaining the opportunity to study a wide range of subjects. English, maths, science and languages are important, but so are subjects like music and drama, which develop team-working skills, foster understanding of the power of emotions and prepare people to speak in public.

Education should open doors to worlds that people never knew existed – to jobs that might not yet exist – and give learners the skills to succeed in whatever field they might follow.

But what do businesses want from our school and college leavers, and how do we square that circle?

Prior to the pandemic, employers were facing skills shortages and there was a profound nationwide mismatch between workers’ current skills and the skills they needed to succeed in their jobs.

A report by the Industrial Strategy Council, overseen by General Secretary Roy Rickhuss, found that seven million workers (20% per cent of the labour market) could be under skilled for their jobs.  So, it matters a great deal to our economy to get education and training right.  But who is responsible for this?

Everything we do has to be partnership. We are stronger when we work together.  The last few years have clearly demonstrated the ability of our workplaces and workforces to adapt to change, and that pace of employment change isn’t going to slow down.  The way we work now is very different to the way we worked five years ago.  Not only is technology changing rapidly, but our human need for a better work-life balance is also a huge driver for change.

Education needs to recognise these changes, and curriculum and qualifications need to be kept refreshed.  New technologies will continue to change the nature of education and employment, and Community wants to see a workforce with the skills and training to use new technologies well and to take up good jobs in new industries.

Further information

Skills fit for the future podcast

Community’s evidence to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill Committee Stage call for evidence

Read more in Your voice

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