The system which governs learning and skills, designed to match labour market supply with the demands of economic growth, is bust. Backward-looking assumptions about growth by policy makers join unimaginative sector forecasts of labour markets, to ensure the supply and demand side of skills are increasingly out of kilter. The world is changing rapidly, but the system isn’t. Proof: from universities to schools, the education system was behind the curve for IT and low-carbon skills.
Some simple interventions could turn the circle virtuous. If the goal became economic resilience, and education’s purpose to develop a person to contribute to that as fully as is possible, the system could generate a workforce (and citizenry) more entrepreneurial and better able to respond to unpredictable changes.
Even if a return to conventional economic growth is possible (which I doubt), the natural environment is under stress, and social inequality on the rise. Policy makers and skills providers, at all levels, need to adopt a risk management strategy with these priorities for a resilient future:
• resource productivity and ecosystem restoration and protection
• human and social capital building, including lifelong learning skills, relationships, governance, enterprise
• ecological refurbishment of the built environment
• financial innovation, to serve the above.
With worldwide fair trade and socially responsible investment markets topping $6.5 billion and $14 trillion respectively, that future – chock full of innovation and jobs – is arguably underway already. Can universities accelerate the trend? Now that the National Union of Students has a £5 million Green Fund to push them, any UK institutions that don’t will lose both reputation and customers.
Sara Parkin is Founder Director, Forum for the Future.
Photo: Snapphoto / iStockphoto