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Pathways-ED: Why is “jobs” a dirty word?

Stuart Middleton
4 April 2012


I cannot understand why there seems to be reluctance and even resistance to the idea that a critical outcome of education is to get a job. Note that I have said “a critical outcome” and made no claim that it is the only outcome. But I must say that without the capability of getting a job after 10, 12, and 13 perhaps even 20 years of formal education all other outcomes are made to look rather meaningless and trite.

When I went to school, (yes, this usually breaks out a chorus of simulated violin playing, shouts of “he’ll tell us about walking to school barefoot in the snow into the teeth of a raging gale next” and many other kinds of loving derision) we knew why – it was to get a job. Indeed at the age of 12, I was enrolled in a technical secondary school to become a carpenter. The course of my life was fixed on that job or so I thought.

It is a whole other story, intervention by well-meaning educators who classed me as “academic” and despatched me into 10 years of academic learning, the most perplexing years of my life when I most flirted with failure. The removal of the goal of a clear job for a future shaped rather amorphously which only later crystallised into teaching as a job, certainly made  my pathway rockier than it needed to be.

Take the espoused goal of creating a lifelong learner. I’ll show you a lifelong learner when a person has demonstrated that they are – it is not a soft prediction that one makes. Many seemingly self-educated people are not lifelong learners. To say “I am a lifelong learner” can only be the conclusion drawn after looking back on at least a chunk of a life and being able to document clearly the evidence.

You see, what we need from educational experiences is the capability to do whatever is asked of us next. That is why I am frustrated by the unwillingness of education systems to accept that the key purpose of each stage of formal education is to prepare students for the next stage of their lives – education, eventually being a responsible adult, and, yes, finally getting a job.

Then there is the nonsense that we are in the business of preparing people to have “at least seven careers” as I read somewhere last week. This is baloney. Rare people have two careers perhaps but most, if they have a career at all, have one. “Career” is a qualitative judgment about a continuous quality of achievement in an area of employment. It might mean that a person has different jobs; indeed it is probably essential that they do, but they are changes and growth within a field not a succession of wild swings between “careers”.

Education would do well to set as a key goal, the aim of getting each and every student into a job.

Yes there are issues of unemployment but remember that the creation of unemployment is the outcome of a deliberate ideological stance about how economies best run. We could have full employment if we so wished and were prepared to pay for it and perhaps the western world will return to that one day. Who knows?. Or could we return?

Alongside the issue of youth unemployment we have another mammoth in the house, the unemployable youth. The skills of employment are not hard to define and one list is about as good as another.

Reliability, punctuality, pride in work, ability to work unsupervised, knowing what productivity means, ability to learn, enthusiasm all occur to me. A better, much more worthy, can be seen at . These should be a given if an education system is half good. But too often students have simply not acquired them. This is not simply the fault of the system or those who teach but we should ask questions about why this simple catalogue of dispositions and skills evades so many learners.

And the answer is clearly, because they cannot see a connection between what they are doing and the life of working in a job or jobs. Unemployment is a scourge of that we can be certain. The wonderful and gruesome and dispiriting TV series, Boys from the Blackstuff, a British television drama series from the early 1980s sticks in the mind for its main character  Yosser Hughes who was somewhat demented by not having a job and the devastation that brought into his life. He had a couple of catchphrases, “Gizza’ job!” and “I can do that!” which summed up the continual torture of unemployment.

Of course the 1980s a time of serious unemployment among adults who lost their jobs. Now the issues seems increasingly to be among the young who have never had jobs.

Can education hold its head up high and say that we are doing our best? Or even that we are addressing the issue?


Published inEducation


  1. Student Job Search engages over a hundred thousand students every year and I suggest that while some within the education sector may have lost sight of why people participate in education, students have certainly not lost sight of the need to secure a job.

    Student Job Search is owned by students and Students Associations are investing in SJS because they know that part-time, causal and holiday jobs pay now and later. They provide cash to support their study today and they provide the work experience that increases their future probabilty of being employed pre and post graduation.

    Students even recognise the value of volunteering. The current generation of students is not only more socially concious than any previous generation they are also more informed and more committed to doing what they must, themselves to increase their employment prospects. For example, many recognise that volunteering can provide valuable work experience and transferrable skills that increase their future employment prospects.

    Youth unemployment is not a new subject but I accept it is a growing one. SJS susggests that sustainable solutions will not be identified or implemented unless Government, business and the education sector proactively engage young people to identify and develop solutions; not just young people not in education, employment or training either, but those most likely to generate jobs for those not in education, training or employment – those in tertiary education (New Zealand’s largest pool of emerging domestic talent).

    Today’s decision makers have very different attitudes towards employment than youth today and until solutions put in place reflect the needs and preferences of all young people the issue of youth unemployment, brain drain and skills gaps will remain unresolved.

    SJS is happy to help in any way we can and reiterate intending, current and recently graduate students are highly committed to jobs….and to helping today’s decision makings solve youth unemployment.

  2. Lyn Rombouts Lyn Rombouts

    Yes I believe education is addressing the issue we can’t expect education to be the answer to the younger ones not ever working. There are many reasons for this and to suggest that educators don’t consider it a critical outcome to educate for employment, seems a little unfair. There are numerous social ills that have led to the low work skills but most education systems view themselves part of the solution to the problem. The teaching of goal setting and reflective critical thinking is evidence of this. We are teaching children in our schools today whose future jobs are undefined. They will be required to respond to a world and to technologies we in 2012 cannot produce a skill set for.

    When times are tough many unemployed choose to educate themselves in the face of the alternative – unemployment. Good on them! They stand a better chance. Perhaps they were employable for jobs that have since disappeared or for which there is saturation point.

    Then there is a sub group of our twenty to thirty year olds who intentionally steer away from the forty year plan of work and paying the mortgage and they explore a self-sustainable utopia outside that paradigm. Are they in denial that there are few if any alternatives? That bracket of society at least experiences freedom from the oppression of unemployment. Good on them too!

    I don’t agree that learning only occurs when it can be accompanied with evidential documentation. Five year olds arrive at school with no documentation and they have been on the greatest learning curve ever in their first 5 years. Education must be multi focused. The world of work for today’s five year olds is unimaginable. When they retire in 2077 will there even be careers?

    Finally, education systems do not have “ unwillingness to accept that the key purpose of each stage of formal education is to prepare students for the next stage of their lives”. Life is changing so rapidly that many learners are left completely uncertain if they have anything to contribute any longer. If they can’t define and identify the next stage of their life how can their educators be expected to?
    An inspiring conversation to be continued. Loved your article!

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