Youth Matters

One of the most unfortunate consequences of the current global financial crisis is the very high level of youth unemployment particularly in Europe. Sadly the present situation looks like it will persist for some time and already commentators are talking about a lost generation mirroring a similar situation in a number of regions in Britain in the 1980s e.g. North East and South West of England. I had direct experience of that situation in Cornwall and the plethora of short term schemes introduced by the then government most of which failed to create long term solutions. Unfortunately at present one can see a similar scenario developing across many countries in Europe and beyond. Complex and interrelated features become manifest at times of high unemployment including the demographical, financial, and societal and most obviously the type and profile of current employment in the country. Whilst politicians argue about the priorities and sequencing of austerity and growth measures, too often the complex issues associated with the possibility of long term structural unemployment particularly for young people is not given the highest priority. The situation is made more complicated at present as the various global transformations come into even stronger and more significant focus e.g. the emergence of the BRICS economies and the ever accelerating advance of the newer technologies and their applications. Ironically in such times golden opportunities arise to fundamentally review and reform critical factors including the structure of the wealth generating base of a country and its relationship to other world economies.

One issue is clear, that the current financial crisis will take a long time to be resolved possibly a generation! Most certainly the future will be very different and will require radical and new solutions; historical signposts will offer little guidance so new paradigms need to be established. So what will this mean for the education and training for the unemployed, young people and under 25 graduates. Conventional curriculum design and traditional teaching methods will not work in the current climate so the purpose and structure of existing education and training systems need to be fundamentally reviewed and reformed. I will focus on Britain and the education and training of young people but many of the points highlighted may apply in other countries. Very different types of employment will necessarily be anticipated and the education and training of young people must be more aligned to the future trends of commerce, industry and services worldwide and as a result totally new approaches in the curriculum will be required both in terms of its content, delivery and structure. This assumes that the country has developed a well defined strategy for the regeneration of its economy underpinned with effective Labour Market Intelligence (LMI) to monitor the changes both nationally and globally.

The curriculum must be structured to create new skills bases with greater emphasis on flexibility, generic skills, entrepreneurial skills and the recognition of the importance of multi- and cross-skilling within the workforce. For example small and medium sized enterprises will become even more important in the future so the curriculum must fully recognise the essential skills that will be necessary i.e. put simply to prepare young people to be more enterprising, creative and innovative. These skills are not present in the heavily prescribed curricula and only figure in more specific programmes at college and university level. It is essential that these are fully integrated into programmes for all students whether at school, college or university. Themes that are critical and essential for coping with the new demands could include:

  • Business skills  especially at the setting up stage
  • Managing self or lone employment
  • Marketing a small business
  • Financial literacy skills
  • Greater awareness of economics and banking
  • Knowledge of legal issues as it relates to running a business
  • Greater competence in languages of key countries – customers and suppliers
  • Greater awareness and knowledge of other countries’ business, manufacturing and services strengths including cultural aspects
  • Problem solving skills
  • The introduction to philosophy and philosophical concepts that will allow a more critical, logical, pragmatic and reflective view of life and work to be developed.

To be even more effective the new programmes must be supported by vastly improved Careers Information, Advice and Guidance (CIAG) systems. In order to enable a young person to be better prepared for work increased emphasis must be given to work experience/shadowing/sandwich programmes and that employers are more involved at all stages of the education and training process.

Analysis of previous recessions affecting Britain offer few positive examples of major reforms as only too often governments and companies cut back on training and fail to adopt regenerative and effective long term strategies to develop and strengthen the skills of the workforce. Also they are prone to create short term schemes that achieve little or no long term benefit for the young people or the country. Wider societal elements also contribute to problems with the education and training of young people including the obsession with celebrity culture and the possible negative effects of media role models. The increasing desire for instant answers and the resultant tendency to invest less time in learning coupled with a decline in critical analysis as a result of the dependency on the internet can be problematic. But having said that young people are far more confident in exploiting the benefits of the new technologies and if the educational experience on offer recognises that they will be more aligned to the way these technologies impact on both the world of work and the work of the world.

The current situation will present governments and politicians with some major challenges but one aspect is critical and that is that all interested parties should be involved in the reviews and subsequent proposals including employers, the media, educational and training organisations and definitely the young people themselves. The reforms must be radical and fully recognise that the nature of education, training and work will be very different in the future so all parties must be prepared to bury past practices and ideologies in order to create a more promising future for young people. A country that fails to invest in its young people will also fail to succeed in the global economy.

First published on the City and Guilds Centre for Skills Development website-Autumn 2012.

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