Social skills are as necessary as academic success, says Alec Reed who teaches business students a course called LIES
Today's educational agenda is more and more concerned with academic standards. League tables on exam and test results exist at every level and hit lists of "bad" schools are being compiled. As a result less and less time is spent on teaching young people the skills of living. These are the softer interpersonal skills that people need in order to use that academic knowledge. So are Britain's young people equipped with the social skills to see them through their lives and careers?
The University for Industry, a concept of public/private sector partnership, aims to enable individuals and businesses easy access to high-quality, relevant learning information, opportunities and materials in order to strengthen competitiveness and improve employability. In announcing the initiative, Baroness Blackstone said it would "revolutionise the way we learn".
But what skills should individuals learn and businesses teach in order to improve our nation's employability? And, indeed, should British people wait until they have reached industry before they learn them? It seems to me that schools and colleges do well at preparing young people for university, but what does higher education do to provide graduates with the tools that they need for their futures in industry?
As professor of innovation and enterprise at Royal Holloway, London University, I come into contact with many undergraduates. They are all bright academically and undoubtedly creative, but some find it difficult to shine as they cannot communicate their ideas effectively to others, and many lack the charm required to convince their peers that their ideas are good.
Surely a young person's education is not complete until they can do this with flair. How are the innovators of tomorrow going to change the world if they cannot share their creativity and inventions with others?
But what does it take? The Three Rs and academic knowledge are still an important factor in today's workplace but equally important are what I have called the Seven Cs. The ability to Communicate and Cooperate with others. Creativity and Charm. A Competitive spirit and a moral sense of Citizenship. And in today's workplace the ability to use a Computer. All very separate skills, but intrinsically linked to the education of the whole person.
At Royal Holloway I have developed the leadership, innovation and enterprise (LIES) course, a half module usually taken by undergraduate business studies students. I aim to inspire a passion for the creative side of business and to encourage in them a healthy degree of scepticism towards traditional management theories.
Students take an active role in the learning process through workshops and group exercises, thereby learning about group dynamics and the cooperation required to work effectively with others. They come out of the course fully understanding the importance of creativity and diversity within the business world and the need for and usefulness of looking for alternative solutions.
This is the type of learning that every undergraduate and diploma course should be aiming to include. Equal emphasis should be placed on both the learning of the subject and the practical aspects of how such knowledge can be used, and how businesses are pushed forwards by the Seven Cs. To its testament, the LIES course is one of the most highly rated and oversubscribed final-year modules at Royal Holloway.
I am not advocating that every university and college of higher education should adopt this course, but that they should adopt its principles of interactive learning and the education of the whole person.
I would suggest that modules which combine the Seven Cs with academic material, or that concentrate on the Seven Cs alone, be incorporated into every course. It is my ideal that these modules should be given the same prominence as every other within the course and should be compulsory. After all, what is a scientist who cannot communicate the results of his or her groundbreaking research? And, when combined minds form a team with genius qualities, how destructive is the influence of the prima donna who cannot cooperate?
British people should learn the Seven Cs throughout their education. They should have the opportunity to improve their employability before they become employed. At the University for Industry, the need for these skills should be acknowledged so that people can build on them. The ability to interact with others will help individuals to learn the practical skills required in the workplace, and help them to share knowledge and learn from each other.
Alec Reed is chairman and founder of Reed Personnel Services plc and professor of innovation and enterprise at Royal Holloway, London University.