Life-readiness: what if we’re asking the wrong questions?

Richard Freeman suggests we should be cultivating the da Vincis and the Michaelangelos for a renewed idea of life-readiness

In the past 12 months, the publication of The Careers Strategy, The Gatsby Benchmarks and The Industrial Strategy have put the importance of careers and employability education front and foremost.
Through the government-backed Careers & Enterprise Company, every secondary school in the country is expected to have an Enterprise Adviser from local industry helping schools to think bigger about the way they connect with business.
The Apprenticeship levy has put the funding and policy power of 16+ work-based learning in the hands of big employers and the forthcoming T Levels and developing degree-level Apprenticeships are intended to create a parity of esteem between technical and academic education at level 3 and above.
Good stuff.
But, there could be something missing.
The agenda for skills and work-readiness is couched at every policy level by the notion of productivity and preparedness for jobs. But the research shows comprehensively that what we understand to be ‘work’ is changing for ever. 50% of current primary school children are likely to be eventually taking roles in industry or public services that don’t yet exist.
We don’t know what skills we need for the future.
We don’t know if the technical skills being taught today will have any relevance in an age of automation and digital advance. A recent Australian study determined the shelf-life of any new technical skill gained as being just six years.
Teachers say they are ill-equipped to keep up with the pace of change in technology and that whilst digital literacy is fast-becoming as important as being able to read and write there are very limited skills, structures and support to meet this new need.
‘Employability’ focuses on the need to be employed. But in some sectors, such as the creative & digital, hospitality and construction industries, as much as 60% of the workforce will be self-employed.
We are still focusing on CVs and interview skills. Yet, the life skills needed have very little attention. Where do we fit negotiation, articulating purpose, communicating complex ideas, engineering problems/solutions, design-led thinking, process-mapping, emotional intelligence etc. These are demanded by employers in every sector, they are needed for self-determination, enterprise, confidence and clarity and the route to a meaningful adult life.  These competencies can be called creativity.
PHSE in primary and secondary schools is not embedded, but a stand-alone set of sessions that seek to cover forms of life-readiness. These are not priority sessions; they are not statutory; they are not expected to receive as much planning, attention or scrutiny as other core subjects.
Careers education and the underpinning philosophies of work-readiness also centre around binary choices, early specialism and a defining position on what ‘type’ of career a child or young adult might want to pursue. Can we ask ‘who’ do you want to be rather than ‘what’?
Schools like the XP Academy in Doncaster are putting life-readiness front and foremost in everything they do – but why does it feel so maverick? At West Rise Junior in Eastbourne, children build fires, tend a herd of water buffalo and have an arts laboratory called ‘Room 13’ – whilst this could be any unassuming state-run primary – it isn’t. Why?
And what about adults?
The Adult Education Budget has been slashed hard in the last 7 years, with a movement towards loans away from grants for adults looking to upskill or retrain.
With skills gaps in complex management roles and talk of 1-2 million redundancies by 2025 as automation takes hold – how equipped are our towns and cities to roll-out informal and formal learning programmes for the new world?
To navigate and thrive in this new world, we need the new da Vincis and Michelangelos. We need individuals who are both scientist and artist: the creative visionaries. Instead, we are producing the very opposite.
Dr Thusha Rajendran, Heriot Watt University
There are a number of bodies invested in improving the conversation around employability, careers and creative skills from a young age – but there is no cohesive national narrative, and for every radical think-piece there is policy white papers seem to call for a narrower scope.
In order to leave school, college and university with a rounded set of ambitions, options and skills – some children need a deep academic curriculum, some children need a deep technical curriculum, most children need a blend of both, ALL children need a deep creativity curriculum.
ALL adults need a deep creative curriculum.
There feels to be a considerable tension between old and new power models and values. Old power careers models focus on a linear set of progression routes through education and work, with the received wisdom determined by traditional business and political structures. The focus in on portfolios of courses and qualifications, upon which set pathways are built, is rapidly coming under fire from emerging generations who don’t think it makes sense.
New power models focus on ambition and purpose, acknowledging that pathways through life and careers are largely autonomous and are more based on decisions and judgment than pre-determined experiences. New power values encourages young people to be shaping their own employability education, identifying the behaviours and competencies that they most want to develop rather than the jobs that they most want to settle in to.
We want to answer a number of key questions, working in collaboration with experts, agitators, teachers, parents, young people, employers and partner organisations
What should discussions about life-readiness look like, when should they start and how can they be embedded?
What experiences would give teachers more confidence in discussions life beyond compulsory education – sessions co-designed with external parties that explore the challenges and opportunities of personal decision-making?
Can we reclaim employability – so that it is not rooted in productive contracted employment, but opened up to be more related to how we employ our potential, how we employ our skills and competencies in all contexts, how we employ the resources around us?
How do we create an apprenticeship and T Level structure that supports entrepreneurs, sole traders and freelance careers?
What new civic responsibilities can ensure that there are retraining and upskilling opportunities for people unemployed due to increased automation?
How can we free up teacher CPD and capacity, so that they can get under the skin of what is here/coming (digital, immersive, crowd-sourced, networked, disruptive, localised) rather than what has been (linear, analogue, rote, pre-determined, hierarchical, compliant)?
How can we give children more autonomy over their own careers support, helping them to understand who rather than what they want to be?
What do models of informal learning tell us about personal growth, and can education institutions better blend informal enquiry and formal assessment so that grades reflect how someone thinks as well as what they have learned?


Does this speak to you?

Join us in Brighton on 22nd November 2018, when we join forces with the RSA Innovative Education Network and Whole Education to tackle this head-on.


Richard Freeman is CEO of always possible, a Trustee of work experience charity Fair Train and Chair of the RSA Innovative Education Life Readiness and Education taskgroup.

always possible

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