29 August 2011
There is a lot of talk currently about the importance of job creation if economies are to position themselves to grow out of the recessionary murk that pervades. But a lot of this obsession misses the point.
Education creates jobs. Jobs won’t create education and the benefits that go with them. So the focus only on a so-called “pipeline” that has jobs at the end of it misses the point. There is another pipeline that matters more – education.
The reason that so many young people are unemployed is not solely because the number of jobs has decreased but significantly more so because so many young people are unemployable. Even if the jobs appeared overnight the impact on the great pile of unfulfilled potential would be slight. The creation of youth employment rates would similarly put a few into work but they would not make the unemployable ready for work.
Years ago, the Manukau City Council, in a move rare among territorial authorities at the time, wrote an economic development strategy. It then was obvious that alongside that there was a need for an employment strategy. Having completed that, it was clear that the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle of a well-educated and knowledgeable community was an education strategy. Education begets employment begets economic growth.
It is no coincidence that Silicon Valley grew around Stanford University –indeed it got its start on Stanford land and with a great push from the Stanford Research Centre, established to give impetus to economic development after the Second World War. (Stanford University could also benefit from the income from land it couldn’t sell!) People like David Packard and Bill Hewlett weren’t recruited through an employment programme and subsequently turned out to be quite good – they were proven graduate students invited to pursue their work in the Stanford area. Education leads to job creation which leads to economic growth.
Some of the mythology around Bill Gates talks of how he “dropped out” of Harvard. Burst through the top would be more accurate than drop out of the bottom. He was greatly successful at every step of his education, well supported by his parents and got a great start at his exclusive primary school. He got opportunities to explore computers both in school and through parental connections in private companies; he produced the computer programme for scheduling classes at his school; in his sophomore year at Harvard the development of new computers presented him with what he saw as an opportunity to set up a company which he did with his parents’ support and approval. Educational “dropout”? Not for a moment. Education leads to job creation which leads to economic growth.
If there is a challenge in terms of economic growth in New Zealand and Australia it is the challenge of so many young people who at the point of completing their basic schooling do not have the skills to continue with an education that would make them employable. Once upon a time there were opportunities for such youngsters – low skilled and unskilled employment offered a chance to them to get a foot in the door and on the ladder. But that has dried up. Once upon a time a benign employer would give a raw kid a chance and that often turned out well. But that has dried up.
The young person who has the skills of employability – team work, communication, leadership, time management, creative thinking, striving for excellence – and can back these up with good literacy, numeracy and digital skills will be likely to be able to successfully seek employment. More so, if they have completed an educational programme in disciplines relevant to the field in which they are looking and can clearly demonstrate a few personal skills of energy, commitment, enthusiasm and good verbal skills. It probably helps not to have bits of wire stuck through odd places and tats on the forehead. None of that seems too hard and those who successfully complete their schooling and a postsecondary qualification will generally measure up.
We need a steady supply of such young people into the labour force at all levels so that those ahead of them can create the new jobs. Growth comes from such leadership and will never be created simply by wishing it could be. It is not the new recruit who will produce growth, they simply make it possible for the experienced and the developers and the entrepreneurs to do so.
Therefore is it pointless becoming paralysed by the clichés? We need to prepare people for jobs which don’t yet exist – what about preparing them for the ones that do? Everyone will have seven careers in a lifetime – what about getting them ready for the first one? We need new kinds of integrated skills – it helps to have skills that can be integrated. Growth happens because successful and highly educated professionals pull disciplines and activity in new directions creating new opportunities for those coming in. Businesses expand because they can do so with some confidence that there is a skilled workforce able to support the growth.
Economic growth is reliant on our creating more people who instead of taking from the public purse are able to contribute to it. And that requires high level educational success for all. Education creates jobs. When education fails, it only creates jobs in education. Education outcomes trump labour market outcomes every time!