Education isn't equipping students for the world of work, says James Jefferson – could a new virtual apprenticeship, co-created by universities and business, be the answer?
The virtual apprenticeship provides a new and alternative solution for experience-based learning. Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP
In a world of economic doom and gloom, the creative industries, and digital in particular, provide an enormous ray of light. The digital industry is booming, pumping money into the economy and creating thousands of new jobs each year. Digital is no longer the future – it is the present. So why, at a time of such prosperity and growth, are fewer than 10% of graduates able to find work in their chosen careers?
The problem is simple. There is a growing gap between business and education. The creative sector has had to become increasingly agile to survive (and thrive) in a challenging commercial climate. Despite the fact that almost 60% of the creative and cultural workforce are educated to degree level, the industry continues to face considerable skills gaps and shortages.
This suggests two things: that students are not leaving university with the most marketable and industry-relevant skills and that courses aiming to create the next generation of bright young creative minds are falling behind on innovations and advances. The result is that many graduates lack the necessary skills to hit the ground running.
A few years ago, I was invited to be an external assessor for a university design faculty. After talking to students, it became clear that there was a serious gap between what they were being taught and what I was looking for in graduates I might hire. This felt really unfair on undergraduates – some understood this difference but others would only find out when it was already too late – when they'd graduated and started going to interviews and were rejected time and time again.
Universities and colleges are failing some students by not understanding what they need to be able to do to succeed in businesses. In fact if you look at the roles we hire for in our agency, Equator, none of them, bar programming, is well catered for by universities – some, like SEO are almost entirely self-taught. It has become increasingly difficult for courses to keep up with the rate of change in our sector. Heck, we struggle to keep up. But change for us is fundamental.
Our whole business is structured around the ability to learn and implement new technologies every day. We're constantly asking how we can improve our processes and make better stuff to make our clients more money. We share a lot – we have regular academies, where one of the team presents a new idea or technology to everyone else. We get together every month to discuss the direction of the business and what each of the teams have been doing. We invite project teams to openly share with everyone the successes and failures on completed projects.
We do all these things to ensure that new ideas can be picked up fast by everyone in the studio. Even a little of that could leak out into the lives of students studying for any of the roles in our business, they might benefit hugely. But this can't come purely from an internship.
How can we give students ongoing first-hand experience of the type of thinking we expect from our team? The answer is simple: social media. This 'always-on' connection between groups of people is what social media is really good at. So might it be possible to create a digital social space that enabled professionals and students to work side by side continually? To share experiences, critique work and mutually benefit from the experience?
There are examples of this happening already. Educational institutions have begun to innovate to keep up with the demands of students with virtual learning environments, platforms like TED.com and the much-feted Moocs. And some institutions are using student data to create personalised virtual learning plans. This is the beginning of a move away from the classic, linear, classroom approach of old to a new way that develops each student individually. But they are, for the most part, still inward looking.
Time to rethink the apprenticeshipWe've got amazing things happening within colleges and similar things happening in businesses but the two aren't yet meeting. Now's the time to introduce them. There are two elements needed for this: one is simply the technology, the other is a catalyst for cultural change in both the business and educational spheres.
Both of these can be solved using the ideas prevalent in emerging social media:
• Using the data to understand individual student progression
• Creating deeper connections by reading language and emotions (see MIT Media Labs)
• Crowdsourcing expertise on a trust-based platform (see AirBnB, Vayable)
• Using dating-style algorithms to connect students to professionals (see Partnered)
• Creating rich experiences with higher fidelity co-working online (see Yammer, Skype, GoToMeeting, iThoughts)
• Using trusted offline networks to lend this weight (see CCSkills, BIMA)
This is a model for a new form of crowdsourced virtual apprenticeship. It moves us away from thinking the only solution for experience-based learning is short internships which don't work for many small to medium sized businesses.
This type of solution would be both a platform and an agent for change. It could be supported by organisations that already exist to help connect courses and businesses and could create measurable benefits for everyone involved. It would enable students to connect frictionlessly to professionals, building great reputations rather than dull CVs. It would enable businesses to help shape the type of people they need and equip educational institutions with the data and tools to keep up with the needs of the sector.
Through a structure like this we could empower students to develop careers rather than just degrees, we could drive change in educational institutions and we could help businesses get the talent they need to help them grow.
I would dearly love this social revolution for education to be led by UK education and business and the digital and creative sectors, among the worst affected by this issue, could create the solution. We have some of the best digital and creative courses and businesses in the world – and only by bridging this gap can we hope to continue this success.
Originally Posted On: theguardian.co
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