As economic problems beset more and more countries there seems to be a growing global conviction that education should prepare students for the world of work. We constantly hear employers complain that students are leaving secondary schools with very few work skills, and schools are taking a lot of the blame for this. Leaders in business and industry are calling loudly for schools and universities to prepare students for the workforce and many educational policy makers are heeding this call.
Many governments all over the world are giving employers a lot of say in school and university curriculum design and are allowing these employers to fund more and more educational programmes, so that students will become more productive when they enter the workforce. Of course, this also helps governments that are strapped for money to effect some savings. Developed countries derive much of their economic and military power from improving the skills of their workforce through education. School-to-work programmes are becoming more prevalent all over the world. They link schools with workplaces so that students can learn work skills. They are given job attachments to get work experience and develop a positive work ethic. Partnerships between schools and the workplace are becoming more and more common.
In 1994 President Clinton signed the “School to Work Initiatives Act,” designed to help students to make a smoother transition into the workforce. In the Caribbean we are developing our Caribbean Vocational Qualifications with input from employers.
Employers also reap many benefits from arrangements like this. When employers become more directly involved in education there are inevitable changes in educational policy, leading to a direct connection between education and workforce requirements. This is fine once it is kept within certain boundaries.
In today’s rapidly changing world economy and society I have no problem with a greater integration of academic and vocational education. This is necessary because of constant changes in the job market. However, I strongly believe that schools and education should not prepare students for specific jobs or careers. This would be job training and not education. Schools are in the business of education, not narrow training for particular jobs. Job training is primarily the business of employers. Some may be seeking to save money on training by letting the schools do some of it for them.
I share the view that schools should give students a well-rounded education which would enable them to fit smoothly into any job or career or move from one job to another with relative ease. The global marketplace requires that students have an education that gives them good literacy and numeracy skills, soft skills, communication skills, teamwork, critical and creative thinking, good problem-solving and decision-making skills, positive attitudes, self-discipline, punctuality, a good work ethic and good computer skills. Schools need to provide this kind of education for their students. A student with the skills above can fit into any work environment and excel. The employer will find that he needs less job training.
One cannot just train students for specific jobs or careers which may change or become obsolete in a few years. A few years from now there will be jobs which do not exist at this moment. Students need to be educated in a broad sense, not trained for specific and narrow jobs. They must be adaptable to whatever jobs or careers emerge in the changing economy and society. They may even choose to create their own jobs. Schools and universities should focus on education, not on job training for employers.