Accessibility links

It could be argued that for some the conventional skills and employment system no longer works. This is a particularly relevant topic given the recent civil unrest that Britain has seen. Such an observation does not excuse the widespread violence and looting that the past week has seen but it does provide some context to the situation and an indication as to why there are so many who feel the best way to enrich themselves and get something out of their community is by going on a rampage.

It could be argued that for some the conventional skills and employment system no longer works. This is a particularly relevant topic given the recent civil unrest that Britain has seen. Such an observation does not excuse the widespread violence and looting that the past week has seen but it does provide some context to the situation and an indication as to why there are so many who feel the best way to enrich themselves and get something out of their community is by going on a rampage.

Monday the 8th of August was one of the several days rocked by this unrest. It was also the day that a group of 20 people met for the first time to try out a new, informal approach to skills and employment that may perhaps offer a blueprint for alternatives to some of the challenges the current system faces.

A Skills Stalemate

The need for skills is well documented. I should know since I used to be a Project Coordinator at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills where much of that research and documentation takes place! The crux of the argument is that we live in a highly competitive and globalised economy which is evolving at a fast pace. Continual development of new skills is important for “adding value” and even just to keep pace with the constant rate of change.

With the pressure to keep costs low and the ever-present opportunity for businesses to relocate many aspects of their operations wherever the best value for money can be achieved, however, there is also a clear case for many businesses to not invest in skills and instead tap into the skills already out there. This, in the process, pushes the costs of skills investment on to other businesses and most significantly puts much of the onus on individuals to equip themselves with relevant skills for employment.

Individuals, meanwhile, face rising financial pressures and have little guarantee that they will be able to find appropriate work even if they do invest their time and money in improving their skills. Some can afford to take that risk – attending university without a clear idea of where they will end up for example – but there are also many, particularly from less affluent backgrounds, who do not feel that they can afford to take such a long-term and often unfamiliar approach. The sad truth is that many of them may be right in feeling that way. Unless they can get into the top universities and fit in with white, middle-class culture they will most likely find it extremely difficult to break in to many of the better paid professions.

The loss of Education Maintenance Allowances (EMA) and the dramatic rise in the costs of a university education have further exacerbated these problems and mean that increasing numbers will effectively reach a skills and employment stalemate. Lack of skills will make people unlikely to achieve financial stability. Lack of financial stability will in turn make people feel they cannot afford to invest in the development of the skills they require.

Informal Learning

Whilst riots were raging in some parts of London, elsewhere a group of people gathered in a pub near to RSA offices to learn how to design and build a basic website. They had not met before and came with a wide range of ambitions – all of which were very enterprising. They wanted to help the small companies and charities they were working at to bootstrap on costs, they wanted to gain skills to make themselves more employable and they wanted to start or further develop their own businesses. Nobody was sitting there that evening acting as though it was up to the government and the state to support them. Instead they were supporting themselves and each other.

Everyone was able to attend at minimal cost because there was no qualification at the end of it and much of the learning was self-directed. Jeroen Nieboer, a web developer at Herd, and I gave brief introductions to Wordpress and Moonfruit the two systems we were teaching for the evening. Everyone then got started working on their own sites, learning by doing, with us simply on hand to help with any questions they had as they largely taught themselves.

For many this may sound like a similar format to university seminars - where much self-directed learning takes place. The difference, however, was the price. We charged just £3 per head compared to the thousands that a University education can cost. There was also no long term time commitment or upfront investment that attendees needed to make and they were free to learn at their own pace.

It was of course just a first session and there were many things that still need to be ironed out with the concept – such as how to ensure reliable internet connection for everyone and how to ensure everyone has the chance to ask questions. It may also be the case that making a website is particularly well suited to this format and some other topics that we are hoping to introduce, such as learning to use budgeting software, may require more structure. It is a start though and certainly highlights that there is an appetite for informal, practically focused learning opportunities.

The riots on Monday evening showed that there may well be a problem with the current system of formal education and the career paths that follow (or don’t as the case may be). Our meet up on that same Monday evening, meanwhile, shows that perhaps a more informal and self-directed approach to skills development, coupled with an enterprising attitude, can be part of the solution.

Comments

Be the first to write a comment

Please login to post a comment or reply.

Don't have an account? Click here to register.