Grace Young reflects on her experiences and discusses the importance of learning skills for the future.

I have a distinct memory from a GCSE Maths lesson when we were copying equations from a textbook. A rather outgoing classmate piped up ‘What’s the point of doing this?’ Rather promptly my teacher answered, ‘You need it for your exam’ and that was that.

As a quiet and conscientious type I got back to my work and accepted the teacher’s remarks. Yet, part of me couldn’t help but agree with my classmate. These equations were relevant for the upcoming months, but would they benefit me beyond this? Personally, I felt there was something missing.

Reflecting on my time at school I acknowledge the importance of studying hard for exams as well as the pressure on teachers to reach targets. However, I don’t think this should be the sole purpose of education. For me, education should help students develop skills so they are ready to face the ‘real world’.

Why ‘Real World’ Skills Matter

In the UK, too many young people are classified as NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training). According to the Office for National Statistics, between July and September 2013, 1.07 million young people aged 16 to 24 were NEET, and this age group has by far the highest rate of unemployment.

There’s no denying that this is a complex problem. These young people are not a heterogeneous group and there’s no single solution. However, getting to the heart of the issue starts with what and how they’re learning at school. Students shouldn’t fall into this vulnerable position, they should be taught the skills they need to make a smooth transition to the ‘real world’.

A report by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) they called on schools to produce ‘rounded and grounded’ young people, with skills such as communication, resilience and problem solving. These transferable skills will make for employable graduates and help to overcome many of the challenges that young people face.

So, how’s this done in schools?

Since joining Enabling Enterprise in November 2013 I’ve had the opportunity to develop and support projects that build ‘real world’ skills in the classroom.

One of the primary projects many schools have been taking part in is Number Crunching. Over a series of 10 sessions, students will create a new chocolate bar brand, developing a variety of mathematical skills throughout the process. By the end of the project they will have come up with their own chocolate brand to present to the class, having completed market research, calculated pricing, and designed and developed packaging.

The skills the students learn in these lessons transport them beyond the classroom. Maths becomes a tool to calculate profit, and literacy skills can help develop a persuasive pitch. Suddenly, their learning take on new meaning, and this engages students in a way that a textbook can never do.

And when a student asks ‘Can I finish this for homework?’ you know something is going right.

How Can Businesses play a part?

To complement learning ‘real world’ skills in the classroom, it’s important to see how they can transfer outside the classroom. This point is highlighted in the 2011 OFSTED report, stating that ‘using contexts and audiences outside school’ is crucial to engage students and demonstrate the relevance of speaking and listening skills beyond the classroom.

I’ve found that the business trips that Enabling Enterprise run illustrate how this can be done successfully. Students are set an enterprising task, such as to redesign the office for the employees of the business they are visiting. They are given an office tour and the chance to interview volunteers who join them for the day. Then, they’ll work in teams to generate ideas before pitching them to the class.

The feedback I’ve had from volunteers illustrates shows just how relevant these projects can be:
‘The skills you are learning in this task are the skills I use in my job everyday’. (Ghislaine Perry, Marketing Manager, Brewin Dolphin)

Making The Links

So, by developing skills relevant to the ‘real world’ students feel engaged and learn skills essential for their future.
Amanda Ripley, journalist and education expert writes:

‘This kind of vivid experience that helps kids to see into their future; they can connect the dots between what they are doing at school and how interesting their lives can be’

There will always be a tug of war between businesses who value employability most, and teachers who promote a passion for learning. However, when it’s done well, it should be possible to balance brilliant learning and the skills for success.

An Employer’s Point of View…

On a recent business trip to RSA, I spoke to Peter Collins, the Head of CSR to find out what he thinks about developing young peoples ‘real world’ skills.

The enterprising trips for young people that we host are central to RSA Corporate Responsibility efforts. We have two strategic pillars in our CSR programmes: enterprise and entrepreneurialism, and education and employability.
We have a talented and big-hearted workforce and our employees want to help support young people across the UK to develop skills for the future.

In the UK there is a big problem with young people not being in education, employment of training (NEETs). We want to play our part in addressing this issue and the enterprise workshops we host are central to our efforts in this area.

We see the mutual benefits of supporting these projects -working with Enabling Enterprise is a brilliant way for us to achieve our goals and our volunteers who have taken part have loved it.

RSA have supported skills development in schools through this Enabling Enterprise programme, to find out how you can get involved Contact Us.

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