Employability is Learning Orientation

Employability is a learning orientation, but education in the UK at least is a grade orientation.

Essentially what I mean is that you cannot sit an exam on employability and then say you are employable. Employability is about gaining experiences learning about skills, adapting to environment and honing people skills.

Isn’t a degree all about employability? Well of course, but when an employer asks for a graduate the degree is expected and what differentiates the candidates is their experiences, their attitude and how they articulate them.

I have a couple of examples that might help explain the issue that currently exists in the UK:

I used to develop electronic consumer products and I would buy components from various suppliers. The sales executives varied in their sales skills, but the ones that were successful were the ones that were quick to adapt.

Over time one such sales executive became a close friend and he told me a story about when he started out in sales.
He worked for a large Dutch organisation that had many customers who at that time were happy to repeat orders. However after a short time the repeat orders dried up and profits became hard to get.

A new division head came in and shortly after arriving asked all the sales executives to attend a meeting. They all assumed that this would be a meeting for them to get to know the new head and vice versa, and indeed that is how it started.

When they had finished getting to know each other, the new head asked my friend to explain all about the details of a particular area that he covered.
My friend was taken aback, he hadn’t prepared anything and rather than make it up that is how he explained it.

The new head replied by saying this was your chance to shine, you need to know everything about what you sell and how what you sell can impact on other components in a way that might bring in new business. You need to know all about your competitors and what they have to offer and how we compare. You need to have sales plans that you aim for, but also contingencies if the buyer requests a different deal. You need to know the detail profit and loss of your area.

The new head told them all that in future meetings if anything was raised from the agenda about anything that impinged on sales executives areas they would need to be able to respond.

Shortly after that first meeting quarterly profits rose, sales executives worked together on joint projects and the organisation went from strength to strength.

The moral of the story is that the sales team had been coasting relying on repeat orders from customers, but this was short lived and very soon they had to change their whole attitude in order to survive. They had to learn everything about what they sold and more, this new environment was a learning orientation.

The old environment had slipped to a grade orientation in that when they had meetings they were informed beforehand what they were expected to talk about so that they could prepare for it. A very pleasant easy situation if you have no competition. As soon as you have competition then this no longer works…

If I were to apply this to education it would be a bit like me telling the students that there would no longer be exams at the end of semester. From now on I may examine you on anything at anytime and grade you accordingly. This would mean that students would have to learn everthing….hey, but isn’t that what education is about?

When I changed profession several years ago, I took a diploma and as I worked through the modules I found myself getting deeply into the various theories that existed in my field.
On a visit to my assessor one day I was told that I had done enough to pass the module and so didn’t need to do anymore….I thought this was a little odd, but carried on as I was enjoying what I was learning. It wasn’t until later that I realised that my assessor was operating a grade orientation and it would have been so easy to stop what I was doing regardless of how much I was enjoying the learning.

I raised the word competition, something that apparently drives the private sector.

It is something that the public sector tries to embrace, or at least the government seems to think that by introducing inspections into education, by creating tables of comparison then this in some way creates that same private sector environment.

However, by doing this education has implemented more and more ways in which it can be measured. This has meant more and more exams for the students. But in order to maintain status the exams need to be easily managed by the students…not necessarily easy per se, but easy to manage. In other words, lots of them, but lots of help in how to pass them and knowing exactly when they they will take place. As a result we have a grade orientation. There is no real life competition here, just an administrators implementation of what will create competition.

The reality is that the private sector doesn’t need competition either what it needs is a learning orientation focussed on product or service and not profit. All the real organisations over history have succeeded when they adopt this culture.

Employability and Education should be a learning orientation!

Thirty years ago the word employability didn’t exist….I wonder why?

An addition on 7th September 2014:

One of the things about my drive to work is that I get to hear things on the radio that I would not normally choose to listen to.

This morning there was an interview with Tony Little the Head of Eton College…

A very interesting interview, but there was a particular part of the interview that sits well for me with the difference between education and employability.

I have written as much as I could catch from the interview where Tony Little talks about the exams


(Approx 24th to 27th minute of the interview Sarah Montague’s questions in italics)

About 70 Etonians go to Oxford or Cambridge

It is not so much about grades

We are obsessed these days with grades.

Great education is about rather more than that

There are two axioms that drive really good education, one is understanding that young people learn more from each other than they do from adults.

The other is that they learn more outside the classroom than in it.

You would scrap most exams ups to A level wouldn’t you?

I would.  It is fundamentally a Victorian model.

We ask people to sit alone at desks to work assiduously and silently and hand in a piece of paper at the end

As soon as you go to work you are asked to join a team and work on a project of work.

The two things don’t connect, we over examine.

You have just laid waste to the whole of educational system. 

With one blithe swipe of the hand.

We over educate, rather we over school and perhaps we under educate as a consequence.

But don’t the children need the knowledge. 

Of course they do I am not being dismissive of rigour.

Ofsted doesn’t go far enough it is measuring schools in a very particular way.

It is useful but it is not the whole story not is it the relevant measure to make of how a school is doing.

In the process of this ‘age of measurement’ that you talk about, what are we doing? Are we damaging education?

We are if we give people the false view that achieving a whole bunch of certificates and exams somehow is an end in itself….

it is not it is barely the beginning. It gets you to the start line for what you are going to do in life

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