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Close the gap between school and work

Colin Mansell

Colin Mansell is cofounder and CEO of RED Academy, a design and technology course provider offering digital marketing and UX design, user interface and communication design, web and application development. The courses imitate a real working agency model, whereby students can work on real client projects to give them first-hand experience. Students and graduates can take part in a variety of courses varying from 5-24 weeks for both full-and part-time students.

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Image credit: Burst // Shopify Partners. Image credit: Burst // Shopify Partners.

Education systems are failing both students and businesses, claims research by Intern Tech. A shocking 48 per cent of UK graduates stated that they struggle to secure jobs in the technology and marketing industries due to lack of skills, and 93 per cent of UK tech firms claimed that the lack of skills holds their businesses back; surely this is the time for change. So before students even reach university, what more can we be doing to better prepare them for the working world and close the widening digital skills gap?

We have been hearing a lot recently about how rapidly the workforce is changing; technology is abundant and constantly evolving, artificial intelligence is on its way in and that’s going to mean that humans will inevitably be doing vastly different jobs. “Students now absorb information differently.”But there has been much less talk about how education is changing, and there’s a mismatch there. Sure, there’s been progress with coding being embedded within the school curriculum now, but that alone is not going to solve the skills void in today’s businesses. There are some simple ways that educators can lead the way in this field.

Fluid curriculum

It has been estimated that nearly a third of what you learn in relation to technology today will be out of date within a year. The fast pace of the tech sector is not going to slow down anytime soon, and so the curriculum taught in schools must be flexible in order to stay up to speed.

It follows that as the world evolves and communicates differently than it did even a decade ago, students now absorb information differently. Stepping into a classroom that functions, on the whole, without technology feels unnatural to digital natives. The difficulty for educators lies not only in finding budget to bring technology in, but in determining which aspects will add real value to the classroom and which will simply be distractions. Vast resources that are freely available online make it easier for teachers to include up-to-date information in non-traditional formats.

Students are more aware of the world around them now, and are aware of how they can make their voices be heard through the media and the internet. It is in the best interest of the students to leverage this capacity and adapt run-of-the-mill essays or projects to connect with relevant online networks, be it students or experts.

Embracing these changes and introducing them in a supportive environment is the only way that students will be in a position to be desirable candidates for employers once they complete their education.

Work-related learning routes

There is currently a huge disconnect between the way students learn and the way they will someday be working. Within the next 10 years most people will be working in tech in some way, and so education providers need to cater for this by getting students to think about potential careers early on, so that they feel more empowered to make informed long-term decisions when it comes to applying to further education or employment.

One way to do this is to weave real-world examples into lesson plans. If you’re teaching a Maths lesson, take the time to consider why the concept would be useful to a market researcher or a stock trader, or how an “School leaders can build partnerships with local businesses.” engineer would use an equation. Another way is to outsource careers advice; bring people in who are experienced in different fields to have transparent discussions about what to expect and how to prepare for the real world. This external opinion could be more impactful than that of a parent’s or a teacher’s, and could provide insight about non-traditional routes into the industry.

University degrees are no longer the only way to launch a successful career. The number of apprenticeship schemes on offer has been increasing year-on-year, and there are now institutions that offer career-focused courses in partnership with business professionals to give students a better feel for the working environment. This is fantastic news for students who may have ruled out university due to lack of funding or lack of interest, but who still want options and opportunities.

The most practical way to arm students with the technical skills they need to be successful is to promote meaningful work experience. Internships or volunteer experiences that essentially consist of making coffee and answering phones do not allow young people to really engage with the industry. Organisations in the local area that provide workshops and courses focusing on the digital skills gap can be exactly what is needed to give students a technical advantage. School leaders can also build partnerships with local businesses to provide opportunities for students to make an impact and put them in a position where they can jump into the fast pace of the workforce when they arrive.

Learning Together

Schools should inspire teachers, as well as students, to learn these transitional digital skills and to develop themselves in order to meet their goals. It goes without saying that not all teachers will be experts in the areas that are proving to be necessary for the next generation, but it can be refreshing to go into lessons with a “let’s learn together” attitude.

Opening students’ eyes to different ways of thinking, including collaborative learning, will be beneficial in the long-term, regardless of whether their next step involves further education or employment. Explorative learning like this can be the jumping-off point for lifelong interests that power students to change the world.

The rift between education and the workplace has the propensity to shrink, just as the world has seemingly shrunk following the communication revolution. Embracing these steps will place schools at the front of the pack, transporting students to the future.

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