WINNIPEG, MB - Shortly after my abrupt removal from elected office, I attended the executive program at Queens to try to get my head out of politics and back into business.
The only thing I came out of it with was a new appreciation for the benefits of physical stretching and a realization that I had to get my body moving or end up in a wheelchair, I was that unfit from flying back and forth and from sitting in countless and endless meetings every day.
I also left understanding that the academic system is not about preparation for work, even though this was a business refresher. Students are learning things that are about the past and are, worse, passé. The reason? The teachers either had been out of active business for so long that they just weren't current, or they were viewing the issues so academically that their conclusions frequently bore no relationship to actual practice. And these guys came to the classroom with big credentials.
Flash forward until today and a conversation with my recently graduated grandson who took the full Monty of business courses, first at Red River for two years (where you are supposed to learn practical stuff) then at Asper School of Business for a couple more. He earned his business degree last summer and he is putting what he learned, or is trying to put what he learned, into practice in his work.
His first job was a term position for a major local employer. He ran afoul very soon when it as discovered that in spite of his degree, he did not have the practical computer skills to meet the employer's needs. Why not? His minor in Human Resources did not include anything about data management, social media (an important skill in the recruitment field today) or the current opportunities available in labour saving apps.
His term position behind him, he was immediately employed by a head-hunter and is facing more of the same skills issues. After all that time and money spent on school, he is now forced to re-educate himself with reference to papa Google in order to fill in the skills gaps.
My granddaughter works with mentally challenged adults, a job she loves. She wants to upgrade her education in ways meaningful to her employment. One field she has examined is sign language, but to achieve certification the courses required for this simple skill present a heavy burden on a working girl and take about four years. She has considered other options, such as nursing, but a nurse today has to study as long as a lawyer does in order to practice.
I am an employer. I notice the lack of preparation and skills that young people bring to the table straight out of school. They have big expectations about salary, working conditions and what they like and don't like to do, but they are sadly unprepared for the realities of actual work. I don't blame them. I blame the system. Unfortunately, as a small businessperson, I don't have the resources to retrain them, so I end up hiring older adults. This is not good for the young people or for me - I know we would benefit from their energy, their ideas and their fresh outlook. But the basics still have to be accomplished every day.
Major systemic changes must be made to the way we educate our children. We have to remove the politics and ideology from education and prepare students to think critically, to be resourceful and to work hard. We have to give them the skills that they and their employers need: how to spell (no, spell check is not reliable - example: I received a paper the other day that used the work "chalk" when what was meant was "chock" as in "chock-full"), how to do basic arithmetic, and how to read, if not use, cursive writing.
They also need to understand the rudimentaries of the digital world they live in. It is unbelievable that a student entered in a marketing job has not been taught how to use Google ad words or how to read Google analytics. Many don't know how to set up a spread sheet. They may have learned from friends or through self-teaching how to send a tweet, but they have not been taught how to market using Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest or Instagram or even email - they don't understand the different applications of each of these social media networks, unless they took a specialised course in social media. Yet sales and marketing today are all about the use of this media.
At one time, Red River had a network of business advisors who brought first hand business knowledge to setting the syllabus for each course. This was one of the things that kept the college at the forefront of training for work. It appears that this collaboration between the College and the community is no longer in existence. Why not? Surely the College (and the universities for that matter) can only benefit from staying in constant contact with and taking advice from the consumers of its main product.
When it comes to concern about the relevance of today's education system, we are not alone. In the United States, the concern goes deeper than asking that employees have a user-based knowledge about the tech world. In a recent report, the question was asked: "Why were 600,000 high-paying tech jobs unfilled in 2015 in the United States alone, or is the better question: Is technology developing faster than humans can learn to handle it?
"According to the White House, by 2018, 51 percent of STEM jobs will be in computer science-related fields. However, the number of tech employees has not increased along with the number of jobs available. Why? The answer is simple: lack of relevant education."
C.M. Rubin, the author of the report goes further to suggest that basic coding should be part of every grade-schooler's education and predicts that over the next 15 to 20 years, "Coding will become less about rote memorization of basic syntax and more about high-level understanding of what's really going on."
Here in Canada, we are still wasting students' time by dragging them through antediluvian thought processes about esoterica that no longer apply to the fast pace of today's world.
It's time to rethink education.
By Dorothy Dobbie