What do employers want from schools and education?

A new report on education and future skills reveals leaders in the UK’s SMEs are divided on whether the role of education is to create efficient workers or to develop children into well-rounded human beings.

A world of opportunity in education report

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The research, conducted by IBSCA (the UK’s IB Schools and College’s Association) in collaboration with ACS International Schools, canvassed 551 senior decision-makers representing 99% of UK enterprises for their views on the role of education.

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Balancing subject knowledge with personal development

Two-thirds of those responding to the YouGov survey said the purpose of education is to develop children into well-rounded human beings (68%). A third (32%) said it is to create efficient workers for the future.Explaining the background to the report, Education for a World of Opportunity, and the importance of this research, Richard Markham, chief executive of IBSCA UK and Ireland, said: “Educating to develop ethical and personally fulfilled human beings, who are prepared and equipped to be responsible members of local and global communities, is the key to unlocking the potential of the future workforce as we get them ready to thrive in a changing world.“We are educating today for the jobs of the future, for roles and responsibilities within businesses which will use technology and systems that are either in their infancy or haven’t even been invented yet.”Despite the difference in opinion among SME leaders on the purpose of education, there was consensus across SME sectors that personal and professional skills – like problem-solving, communication, critical thinking and reflection – are valued over subject-specific knowledge. Only a quarter of respondents – mainly in the transportation and logistics sector – rated subject knowledge the same way.Traditionally client- or customer-facing industries – such as medical and health services, real estate, marketing, sales, and media – place significant importance for education on developing students into well-rounded human beings (75% report this as ‘important’ or ‘very important’), according to the report. The figure is 58% for organisations operating in more internal-facing organisations – transportation and distribution, finance, and accounting.Stuart Jackson, director of global workplace communications for Amazon, commented: “Businesses are built on people. So, education needs to create well-rounded, decent human beings, because that’s what makes a great worker, colleague and, ultimately, a great business. For that reason, personal skills for a school leaver are key. If you have good interpersonal skills, you’re 50 per cent of the way there, because everything else can be learned when in the role.”

Top five most desired skills for future employees

The YouGov research also asked SME decision-makers about the skillset they most desire in future employees. The top five were:
  1. communication (88%)
  2. inquiring mind (78%)
  3. critical thinking (76%)
  4. open-mindedness (72%)
  5. principled (64%).
Empathy was valued by 63%. Interestingly, the skills least valued by SME decision-makers when recruiting entry-level roles are risk-taking (22%) and entrepreneurship (34%).When asked what skills and personal attributes are most important for young people to acquire in preparation for the unknown future, Ramiro Prudencio, Global Director of Communications at McKinsey & Co said: “Team building, management skills and collaboration” are top priorities. Adding “The ability to read, analyse and integrate different types of information, and draw meaningful conclusions, which allow for deeper understanding.”

Implications of the report

The findings should prove useful for parents and students, as well as educators, as they determine their education journeys. They also reinforce the importance of opportunities, particularly in a global context, of blending personal development with academic achievement through curriculum choice, as well as extra-curricular activities, which many international schools recognise.“The IB Learner Profile is designed specifically to foster the personal and professional skills that this YouGov research shows employers value most when employing young people," said Richard Markham. "These skills are universally prized by employers across the globe and – along with internationally recognised qualifications from the IB Diploma and Career-Related Programmes – provide young people with a ticket to some of the most exciting career paths they can imagine.”Robert Harrison, director of education and integrated technology at ACS International Schools, which collaborated with IBSCA on the report, said: “As educators, it is important for us to understand the needs of employers so that we can help to prepare young people for the world.“The lack of consensus from the business community about what they are looking for from potential employees is indicative of the challenging and volatile job market that our young people will be entering."It is, however, heartening to see agreement on the inherent value of personal skills. That’s one of the main reasons that, at ACS International Schools, we offer the International Baccalaureate (IB), because the favoured core competencies by businesses are deeply embedded into the IB’s approaches to learning.”

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