December 20, 2012

Can we deliver the quality jobs that will meet young people’s career expectations?

How the educational sector is responding to this difficult challenge

The graduate who can thrive in larger organisation positioned in the comparatively protected and ordered primary labour market is not necessarily someone who will be able to survive in the more uncertain, complex and volatile secondary labour market where smaller entrepreneurial companies are to be found.  The good news is that the educational sector in the UK is responding well to these very demanding times and challenges.

Our ability to teach ‘entrepreneurialism’ is improving

My experience of teaching entrepreneurialism stems from my involvement with the University of Hertfordshire where I am a Visiting Professor involved in their MBA programme on entrepreneurship.  At the university great progress has been made in teaching the elusive concept of ‘entrepreneurship’.  Using an exciting array of experiential learning and interactive training techniques, it is possible to equip individuals with the mind-set they need to survive in today’s tough marketplace.

Importantly this is not only about turning out Alan Sugar style entrepreneurs, but also about redefining entrepreneurialism around the idea of taking personal responsibility for taking actions that make a difference.  This definition expands the entrepreneurial concept to be of appeal to individuals who may want to enter the NHS, or a Government department.  It is also relevant to former primary labour market organisations that are now feeling the pinch, and are being forced to operate in the more Jugaad style way that characterises much of the secondary labour market.

The quest is on for ‘problem simplifiers’ who are ‘energy radiators’ who can ‘make a difference’

The programmes at the University of Hertfordshire ensure that the key softer skills that employers want are fully addressed.  In essence, employers want individuals who are problem simplifiers with clear deep thinking skills (rather than problem confusers who only bring doubt, hesitancy and befuddled thinking to the party).  They are looking for energy radiators who intuitively solve problems with great élan, rather than energy drains who sap the will of everyone else in the team.  Employers also want individuals who are good team players who can communicate complexity in a simple way.  Employers also value tenacity, enterprise and the ability to take personal responsibility for making things happen.

We know from the research DVL Smith has conducted with employers that high energy problem simplifiers with a ‘can do’ attitude are the key to survival in the secondary labour market.  The good news is that these skills are now being successfully cultivated by the university sector.

Are the government, educationalists and employers thinking strategically enough about the implications of mass graduate education and the rise of the SME sector?

So the signs are promising as universities reach out to deliver graduates who can successfully cope in the tough secondary labour market of SMEs, and also larger organisations that, to survive, are being forced to operate with more guile, alacrity and improvisation.

However, everyone will need to continue focussing on how we deliver the career expectations of the next generation.  Employers and educationalists will need to rethink traditional graduate degree programmes premised on the old primary labour market paradigm.  The focus over the next few years must be on equipping graduates with the edge, creativity and extra spark that will allow them to survive in the ‘secondary’ sector where the watchword is ingenuity.  If the UK SME sector is to drive the UK economy back into growth, then we need a radical look at how we equip young people for today’s tough labour market.

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