How should our schools respond to the demands of the twenty first century labour market? Eight perspectives

By Dr Anthony Mann (Director of Policy and Research, Education and Employers) and Prue Huddleston (Professor Emeritus, University of Warwick).


Young people have never left education more highly qualified and with more years of schooling to their names and yet face record levels of unemployment, too often losing out to older workers in the competition for employment. This new report features interviews with eight leading commentators on the relationship between education and employment. The interviews highlight ways in which the labour market has become more hostile to young people over the last generation. Three key themes emerge: the labour market is more complex and opaque than in the last increasing the significance of careers education especially where it is rich in direct workplace contacts; school to work transitions have become more fractured than in the past demanding new recruitment skills and resiliency from young people; and, employers offering jobs with greatest prospects have changed requirements, expecting young people to be personally effective in applying knowledge in unfamiliar situations demanding that schools place greater emphasis on applied learning and enterprise education.

Andreas Schleicher is quoted in the report:

Schools must stop trying to predict the future, but they should try to prepare young people for the change they will experience. Schools need to stop preparing young people for the jobs that existed a generation ago and start preparing them for jobs which do not yet exist. For example, entrepreneurship education is much more important now than it was a generation ago because it teaches those skills and personal attributes which oil the modern labour market. It should not be taught separately but written into every subject.

The art of being enterprising – solution-focused attitudes, spotting opportunities, connecting dots and dealing with uncertainties – has, for example, a very clear and strong relationship with effective maths teaching. The great goal of such teaching is not in ensuring deep conceptual understanding as an end in itself, important as that is, but in fostering the ability of young people to apply the knowledge they have accumulated in new situations. In this way, we give them the confidence and intellectual resource to embrace and deal with the myriad unfamiliar problems they will encounter through life.

All subjects should be taught to develop the mindset of young people enabling them to identify and seize future opportunities. This is why the OECD has placed such an importance on creative problem solving, alongside literacy and numeracy, as a key indicator of national educational performance.

Included among the interviewees featured in this publication are:

  • The head of education and skills at the world’s most influential international body working on these questions (Andreas Schleicher of the OECD), the head of the world’s leading academic institute focused on education (Professor Chris Husbands of the UCL Institute of Education) and the chair of Education, Training and Skills at the University of Oxford (Professor Ewart Keep);
  • Leaders of workplace membership bodies representing some 200,000 owners of small businesses (David Pollard of the Federation of Small Businesses), 135,000 professionals working in human resources (Peter Cheese of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) and of six million individual employees (Kay Carberry of the Trades Union Congress);
  • The editors of the two most important international academic journals addressing these questions: Professor Lorna Unwin of the Journal of Vocational Education and Training, and Professor Hugh Lauder of the Journal of Education and Work, each of whom is a prolific and globally influential scholar exploring the relationships between education, skills and work.

How should our schools respond to the demands of the twenty first century labour market – eight perspectives