British employers are divided on whether the role of education is to create efficient workers for the future or to develop children into well-rounded human beings, a new survey suggests.
The survey of 550 decision makers at British small and medium enterprises (SMEs) found that 32 per cent thought education was about creating future workers, while 68 per cent thought it was about creating rounded individuals.
The YouGov poll was conducted on behalf of ACS International Schools and the IB Schools and Colleges Association (IBSCA), with some extra research undertaken with leading global companies and organisations, including the Royal College of Arts, Amazon and Pepsi Lipton.
Despite conflicting opinions about the ultimate purpose of education, the research shows that, when recruiting, SMEs place greater value on personal and professional skills such as problem solving, communication, critical thinking and reflection. Only a quarter of respondents rate subject knowledge as very important.
Views on the purpose of education also vary from industry to industry. Traditionally, client or customer facing industries all report placing significant importance on education developing students into well-rounded human beings (75 per cent report this as important or very important).
Meanwhile, only 58 percent of organisations operating in more internal-facing organisations – transportation and distribution, finance, and accounting – report the same level of importance.
Robert Harrison, director of education and integrated technology at ACS International Schools, said: “As educators, it is important for us to understand the needs of employers so that we can help to prepare young people for the world.
“The lack of consensus from the business community about what they are looking for from potential employees is indicative of the challenging and volatile job market that our young people will be entering. It is, however, heartening to see agreement on the inherent value of personal skills.”
The YouGov research also asked SME decision makers about the skill set they most desire in future employees. Eighty-eight per cent of SME decision makers cite communication, 78 per cent say inquiring mind, 76 per cent critical thinking, 72 per cent open-mindedness, 64 per cent principled and 63 per cent empathy. The skills least valued by SME decision makers when recruiting entry levels roles are risk taking (22 per cent) and entrepreneurship (34 per cent).
When asked what skills and personal attributes are most important for young people as they prepare for the future, Ramiro Prudencio, global director of communications at McKinsey & Co said: “Team building, management skills and collaboration” are top priorities. He added it was important to have: “The ability to read, analyse and integrate different types of information, and draw meaningful conclusions, which allow for deeper understanding.”