Interview: Tom Isherwood

Video Tabs

Are students being prepared for today’s jobs and for the jobs for the future? 
The answer, unfortunately, is likely no on both counts. 
When you look at the jobs right now — we did a big survey and we interviewed youth, employers and education providers across 9 different countries, and we asked them exactly this question: Are graduates from post-secondary education being prepared for today’s jobs?  
What we found was that employers and youth both agreed that they weren’t being prepared. 
The only entity that felt they were prepared were the education providers themselves who I think in this case were mistaken. 
Given the limitations of the institutions that are providing education, it is more and more important for workers to take the responsibility for their education on themselves. 
And the good news is that there’s more ability to do that today than there ever was in the past. 
That’s true, largely because of the advent of online education and the internet. 
It’s true in a couple of ways: there are far more resources, there is encyclopedic information about practically every profession that you could want to learn about online. 
On top of that, there are more and more online education providers — the MOOCs are the ones getting the most coverage — who are enabling workers to take their learning into their own hands. 
The most important thing training institutions can do is really to try to reach out proactively to employers to get them involved. 
Because the biggest problem is this disconnect between what they’re ultimately teaching and what the employers need from the workers that ultimately enter the labor market. 
There are a number of ways that education providers can do this, but it takes real effort. 
Most education providers think they are interacting with employers because they meet with them once a year, for an hour, with 30 employers around a table. 
That’s not what it takes to create real collaboration with employers. 
What it takes is an ongoing almost intimate set of interactions with employers where you are meeting with them at least every couple of months. 
And typically for real intensive interactions to design curriculum together, to design the layout of workshops together. 
Not just to have an hour-long meeting where everyone feels they’ve been consulted.
The most important thing for employers to do to support skills training is to own this problem as their problem. 
A lot of times when I talk to employers they point out the problems they have in finding skilled workers, but they don’t necessarily own those problems in that sense that they say, “well the education institutions aren’t providing me what I need,” or “the school system just isn’t training people well enough.” 
The most important thing for employers to do is to change that line of thinking and instead to say, “what can I do to improve the training that my future workers are going to be receiving in these training institutions.” 
And when you look at it, there’s a lot employers can do. 
From the very beginning they can help more students go in to the right pathways by visiting secondary schools and telling people about what it actually means to work in their career. 
They can then also improve the school-building experience itself, either by helping with the curriculum or by providing trainers to go into the classroom and help out. 
And finally at the end of it, after someone has finally graduated with the right skills, they can make sure they close the loop. 
Show up on campus and recruit them right there. 
To make the journey of the youth from education to employment as seamless as possible.   
One of biggest challenges facing technical vocational education training providers is how to make sense of the new trend toward online education and technology. 
This is one place where there is a real opportunity to improve the delivery of technical vocational training. 
This can happen in a couple of ways. 
First off, there are more blended learning approaches that bring online education into TVET. And they do this not by replacing the hands-on learning. 
Because that’s impossible. 
If you’re learning to be an auto mechanic, you need to be able to get your hands dirty and actually practice. 
But what you can do is make sure that the time spent in that workshop is most effectively spent.
And the way you do that is making sure that your trainees when they enter that workshop have already watched lectures online, have already watched videos of what it actually takes to fix a motor or whatever piece you need to fix. 
And by incorporating technology in this way, training providers can actually take their education to the next level.
Governments play a really important role in making the skills development ecosystem work. 
They do a couple of things that are much harder for other entities in the system to do. 
First is they provide data on what is actually going on in the market. 
This is all kinds of data. 
This is data about what kinds of people are entering the labor market, data about what kinds of jobs are available, data about what kinds of salaries they offer. 
This kind of data is really hard for other entities to do because governments are doing it anyway and it’s costly to gather all this information. 
So the first thing governments can do is get the information and put it out there. 
The second big thing governments can do is a lot of them end up creating some sort of convening or integrating entity. 
It’s able to sit in the middle of this ecosystem and help connect the dots between different entities. 
In some countries these are sector skills councils, in some countries these are entities that are responsible for industrial development in a particular sector. 
But in all cases, these are entities that are able to take the employers on the one hand, take the education providers on the other hand and take the youth and bring them all together to be able to facilitate the skills development that are needed for the economy. 
There are opportunities for the private sector to be part of the solution at almost every stage in the skills development process.
So when we think about the data that tells people which jobs to go into and where the jobs are, what the salaries are, there are opportunities for the private sector in this.
There’s examples in the US of companies that take government data and crunch it  and turn it into something that is a very useful tool for career planning, for colleges and for students.
Training itself is a huge opportunity for the private sector to be involved in.
And you could argue that the private sector is often more closely linked to employers and is potentially very well suited to deliver this training. 
Knowledge transfer between countries in the field of TVET is becoming more and more important.
And it’s happening both at the governmental level — governments that have run a successful program sharing that program with other governments — but it’s also happening at the private sector level.
Today if you look in big tenders for operating technical vocational colleges in China or Saudi Arabia or wherever you look, the entities that are bidding to help run that, the international education providers that are offering to come in and help run those colleges, are from all over the world, they’re not from only one place.
So this knowledge transfer is happening in a very organic way, in addition to the traditional government to government way.