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A review of the European Jobs and Skills Summit 2014

Chris Smith, Student impact coordinator SSAT, writes…

On Tuesday we were fortunate enough to attend the European Jobs and Skills Summit, hosted by IPPR and J. P. Morgan. The event formed part of J. P. Morgan’s ‘New Skills at Work’ initiative, a global five-year programme aiming to address skills and employment issues, and coincided with the publication of IPPR’s report: European Jobs and Skills. It was a fascinating day and it raised some clear questions and challenges for schools.

The challenges were set up at the start of the day by Nick Pearce, director at IPPR, who revealed that over 24 million people are currently unemployed in Europe. Worryingly, he noted, it is young people that have borne the brunt of the unemployment. Whilst the current improvement in economic outlook might allay some fears, the revelation that 2/3 of current unemployment is structural and not cyclical means that much of this unemployment is here to stay unless there is action. And to make things that bit more ominous, it was noted by many that in the UK IT and offshoring will increasingly replace routine jobs, ‘hollowing out’ the jobs market.

Matthew Hancock MP, Rachel Reeves MP and Rt Hon Michael Moore MP offered political and policy perspectives on the problems and representatives from J. P. Morgan outlined the work that they were currently undertaking as a private sector firm. But one thing that was clear from all was that education had an important role to play. Professor Sir Leszak Borysiewicz, vice chancellor at the University of Cambridge, made the case perhaps most passionately, arguing for the power of education to reduce poverty and unemployment, and increase economic growth.

Pleasingly, despite a clear focus on education during the day, these huge problems were not simply passed to schools to solve. Steve Bainbridge, senior analyst of European training policies at CEDEFOP, recognised that it would be impossible to have complete alignment between education and the labour market but that schools still had a significant part to play. Carl Benedict Frey of the University of Oxford argued that with IT and offshoring replacing routine jobs, students will primarily need social and creative skills to ensure they are employable. And Doug Richard, formerly of BBC’s Dragon’s Den, argued passionately for a greater use and appreciation of apprenticeships. As well as all of this, speakers were conscious that students in schools need clear advice and guidance when choosing a career and that this should not come from teachers alone.

It was all fascinating stuff from a range of speakers, some of whom we would not normally come across in the world of education. But what all of them said was clear – education will be crucial in meeting the challenges of tomorrow. Whilst the day was never going to produce concrete answers to these complex problems, it did raise some interesting questions for schools:

  1. What pedagogical methods will best allow you to foster creative and communicative proficiency?
  2. How can you shape your curriculum to ensure students are equipped with the skills they will need in the future?
  3. How might you work with employers to deliver the advice and guidance that students need?
  4. Are there clear and valued routes for your students to vocational courses and apprenticeships?
  5. How can you ensure your students have the highest aspirations?

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