Thursday, 23 August 2007

UK Education and Business must improve dialogue

A BBC recent UK interview between a businessman and a scholar showed yet again that business and academia too often live in two completely different worlds. The language used between the ivory and granite towers is still such that each side resorts to rhetoric and insists they must be right.

Even recently on holiday, I heard the view espoused that graduates tend to make good employees, but not often employers.

What businesses look for is an instinctive understanding of what customers want in a product or service, and an understanding of how changing consumer attitudes require parallel change within the product or service providing organisation. What education provides are people with advanced thinking skills.

While advanced thinking skills are good to enable orientation inside large organisations, courses do not always have sufficient components which directly require contact with retail or business consumers, or the understanding of change needed to keep up with and influence positively ongoing corporate development.

What businesses need are students studying something more like an MBA, whose components do reach out to consumers, and Project Management skills, so that they arrive equipped with an understanding of how change works in both small scale and large scale environments.

So one real way in which business can stop moaning about lack of directly applicable skills and educationalists can stop moaning about poor uptake and deployment of graduate skills is for business to get directly involved with students pre-graduation. Businesses can lobby for more consumer and change focussed courses, and also for government to provide funding towards independent providers, of whom there are a great many potential suppliers.

One concern that needs to be addressed with independent suppliers is that of qualifications. Whilst governments often obsess about a need to measure success, this is usually prohibitive for start up and small organisations. Government measurement of success needs to be graduated, to allow entry level organisations that chance to start up and provide an alternative to often cumbersome state mechanisms.

And business entrepreneurs have one big factor in their favour here. Given the option to have a piece of paper or a quantifiable skill, service or product, they will often prefer the latter, since paper qualifications still can't predict business success. So there is a ready market for suppliers offering such skills provided government can facilitate accreditation.

Another route employers might like to pay attention to in terms of accreditation are the business networks springing up. Here, independent reputation is often developed and supported by networks of business people who know who provides effective services of a particular nature.

Whatever solutions and paths are chosen, neither side can benefit by sitting in their ivory and granite towers slinging brickbats at each other. Someone in the UK with enough vision to think outside the boxes handed down by government, and yet with enough contacts to influence policy making or service provision, needs to act to bridge the gap. It seems no coincidence that the US is 2 years ahead of the UK in terms of developing and implementing new product and service concepts.

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