Today, average is over

Nieuws | de redactie
15 februari 2013 | In today’s labor market there is no place for average workers. One has to be excellent, whether a builder or brain-surgeon. Andreas Schleicher and Lord David Puttnam say Europe has to prioritize its educational investments since “the cost of poor education is unaffordable”.

At the Council meeting on Education, Youth, Culture and Sport two distinguished guests joined the debate: Andreas Schleicher from the OECD and Lord David Puttnam, the current Chancellor of the British Open University.

Educating for the job market of the future

The meeting with this two leading figures in European education focused on the future of Europe’s education and job market. Special attention was given to the job market of the future, in which current students would have to be employed. A job market that will change beyond recognition in the coming decades.

Lord Puttnam, a great admirer of Thomas Friedman, references to Friedman’s book “That used to be US” to describe the job market of the future. In this book, Friedman describes the jobs that will be most under threat the coming decades: the “routine middle-skilled jobs, involving a lot of standardized repetitive tasks, of either the white-collar or blue-collar variety. They include factory assembly-line work, number-crunching and filing in the back room of a bank or brokerage house, routine reporting for a newspaper, transcribing interviews or doctor’s notes, producing a PowerPoint presentation for the boss, making routine sales calls, or tracing lost luggage. This routine middle-skilled work has been devastated by the merger of globalization and the IT revolution.” On the other hand, more and more people are needed with non-routine analytical skills for high-skilled jobs.

Poland and Singapore as an example for the EU

When the EU will do as well as Poland did in the last 10 years, over 50 trillion Euro extra will be earned in Europe’s economy over the lifetime of today’s students. And all of that is possible, as Schleicher explains, without extra money. But the real costs are not in investments, as Lord Puttnam states: “The cost of poor education is unaffordable for Europe”.

One of the most important changes is that work and education should be interlinked more. In both jobs and studies a lot is learned, but most is learned when both are combined at the same time. Then it is of utmost importance to, as a society, use these skills. “Upgrading skills of young people will not have a lot of effect when those skills are not used properly”, says Schleicher.

There is a lot the EU, national governments and businesses can do, says Schleicher. Singapore reformed its economy to an extreme large extent. 90% of their manufacturing jobs were outsourced and replaced by high-skilled jobs. This is one of the keys of Singapore’s current success and a proof that major economic and educational improvements can be achieved.

Schleicher’s three tips for Europe

Three major changes need to occur in the coming years to make it possible to follow Singapore’s road to success.

1 Investments need to be prioritized, do not invest in smaller classrooms because parents and politicians like those plans, but invest in more effective measures like teacher’s quality. Money spend in the early years of education is more effective than spending on universities.

2 Do not educate young people for specific jobs but learn them skills needed in the jobs of the future, or in life in general. Communicating, writing, analytical thinking: skills that are essential in many jobs. The best surgeon in the world in 1913 would not be able to operate in today’s operation rooms.

The best teacher of 100 years ago, on the other hand, would still be able to teach young people today. This shows that jobs change a lot over time, but that the teaching profession has been neglected in the last century. Technology did not find its way in every-day teaching as it did in other professions. For the ISTP2013 in Amsterdam this is a really challenging message and topic to be raised.  

3 Take a “life-perspective on education”. Nowadays, many learn a lot until they turn 30, it is all downhill from there. Make sure that people get educated more flexibly and do not stop investing in people after their thirtieth birthday.

Nissan in Sunderland

Puttnam adds an emotional factor to the choices young people make on what to study: “During my career I often asked actors, since I know really a lot of actors, why they become actors. ‘Oh they said, I was not very good at school, but at the school play I was really good. After the play my English teacher came to me and said: “that was brilliant”. It was the first time that someone said I was good, so I thought, that’s what I’ll be, I’ll become an actor.’ We need to say more often that people are good, especially in some important fields, to stimulate them to follow a career in for example mathematics”.

David Puttnam is foremost a storyteller, that is way he ended the session with his own educational success story. “When I was young, Sunderland was the biggest shipyard in the world, but in the following decades a lot of people were laid off. So as the University of Sunderland we decided to serve our local employers, including the biggest of the region: Nissan. So we asked them what skills they needed, and adapted our curricula. Today it is the most successful and most productive car factory in the world, and all of its employers are educated at Sunderland”.

“This demonstrates that the connection between local businesses and education is very important. There needs to be a consistency in this relation to improve both the local job market and the skills young people learn in education and their job. 

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