How is formal education different to work based learning

This blog is going to be very much an opinion piece about how education and work based training differs. My intention is to explore why the difference is important and possibly how formal education might need to start to better meet the needs of people going into work.

As a Development Coach for Creative Alliance a big part of my job is not just the coaching of young people into the professional standard of the creative and digital sectors, but also to actually help them exist and survive in the real world.

Now I want to place a caveat on what I have written that these are my personal opinions rather than the opinions of Creative Alliance. In addition to this, as an addendum of the caveat, I am not from an education background but rather a professional from the creative and digital sector. I just wanted all my pieces in a row before I begin.

What is Education these days?

Education is one of the biggest issues in any country, it fuels the future of any nation and is a symbol of progressive civility and status that governments can wear as a badge of honour. The UK has always been one of the leaders of education in the world, producing minds that would provide value to any company around the world. With Cambridge and Oxford still topping the best university lists it shows we are still there or thereabouts. So, is there an issue? Well I feel there is. Probably not for your average Oxbridge graduate but what about everyone else who is not quite in that illustrious company?

Education should give you the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to find your place in the world – along with other essential aspects of growing up. Education should help people develop understanding of how our global society works and functions. The problem is that many people believe that undertaking standard education to the age of 18 will be enough to set you up for life. It’s just not true – at the moment the UK education system is failing to prepare young people for the real world of work – in fact, it’s not even close. This is the stark realisation that I am presented with according to the prospective apprentices that come through our doors. The apprenticeship reforms mean that I can also include people with degrees and people of any age in that assessment, not just young people and apprentices or people that have fallen out the education system. Reinforcing this are the conversations that I have every day with employers in the Creative and Digital sector who tell me how hard it is to recruit good talent.

Education may supply people with innate knowledge of their chosen subjects but often forgets to develop people in the following ways:

– How to communicate

– How to problem solve

– How to work on your own initiative

– How to actually work in a team. And do all of that while applying your knowledge quickly and professionally.

So how do work based training and apprenticeships differ?

When I first started working in apprenticeships I often had to convince employers of the value of apprenticeships and the skills that are learnt. Employers felt they needed graduates and wouldn’t consider anything different whilst at the same time complaining about having to train up graduates to get them to speed. The graduates required a higher wage which meant the employer never felt they were getting value for the employee they were paying.

With work based training and apprenticeships the deal, as I see it, is that employers take a relatively fresh person who has a passion for the sector they are going in to and they take the time to train and upskill that person to the point that they become an asset to the company (around 6 months in my experience). To do this they pay a wage that is below the national minimum wage. Our job in the process is to train this person in the theories and help support them through their first year in employment – and it works very successfully. We have taken business graduates with little-to-no professional working experience and, between the employer and ourselves, molded them into shape for work and a career in the creative sector. They are often poorly equipped to deal with the work and problem solving that comes with an industry that is forever changing – this gives them a thirst for knowledge and an ability to self-learn. What’s the saying? Give a man a fish and he will feed himself for a day, teach a man how to fish …

That’s what we and work based training can do – we coach people in how to develop themselves and how to become a better, more valuable, employee. So why is education not doing this?

I think the biggest issue is that education is so under strain to hit targets that teachers are pressured to pull learners through. Therefore, there is no consequence for the learner to not working. In the real world the consequence is all too real. A good apprenticeship, if they work hard, is the best possible start a person can have. Someone who works hard to get what they want will get what they want.

What is the answer? I don’t think there is one. A real investment into work experience that actually adds to their exam/end result would be a good start.  An education system that is not based on targets but is instead focused on the development of knowledge and behaviours could work.

‘Lack of effort will bring lack of results’ needs to be a lesson that everyone learns – and it isn’t necessarily the sole responsibility of the school to teach this and drive results, we learn via family, social activity, extracurricular involvement, the media etc …that is why it’s such a difficult task to get right.

What I do know is that work based learning for the right individual will result not only in a job but also a career.

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