Seeing Education Differently
At one time in California, education was a two-track structure. One track led to college, the other track to a vocational career. Of course some students, after exiting high school with vocational skills, entered the work market and chose to return to college. But, what of those students who never learned a vocation because they were on the "college" track? When California went to a one track system, it failed to recognize that students who had a vocation were more likely to succeed in college. And, that students who had no vocational training were very likely to fail in the business arena if they dropped out of college (as many do). However, for some reason, we have continued to minimize the importance of such skills as balancing a checkbook, paying taxes, maintaining focus and a work ethic in lieu of raising our academic bar.
With the economy in a major dip, as happens every few years, education in California is taking another hit in terms of rising class sizes, fewer educators available to meet student needs and fewer vocational subjects being broached because vocational skills do not get the school the scores they need and many schools are barely able to provide the minimum services that students need.
Education as a Business
Whether one wishes to acknowledge it or not, education is no longer an organism that just lives and feeds and thrives because "it should." As with any business, if education does not adapt to meet the changing needs of their customers, not only will the students suffer, but our long term economic health and vitality will also suffer.
If a student does not learn a focused work ethic, they may eventually graduate from school with a doctorate. The degree will be of little use to businesses who need that individual to arrive at work on time and be able to work within a company budget. I have seen countless companies hire graduates who, on paper, had received a multitude of accolades in academics. Then, when it was time to put that education to work, find an apartment, make commitments, etc., they had no idea where to start. Needless to say this created a very challenging learning curve for both the company trying to survive visible inadequacies and individuals trying to adapt to the needs, vision and goals of the venture they had entered.
Education is not a black and white issue. Within the gray area of these extremes there is knowledge that will profit both the student and the business world they will eventually enter. In order for our education system to begin to prosper, we must begin to look at that gray area and adapt some of those vital characteristics that will provide the synergy between education and business that is needed.
Comparing Value Systems
It is important that we understand the disparity of education and business from some of the core elements that are a daily reminder of where we need to start.
* A student is fifteen minutes late to class everyday, but aces papers and tests. This goes on semester after semester. The price the student pays is that they get a "B" instead of an "A."
* The student then graduates and is hired in a prestigious position because of their degree and GPA. However, they are still fifteen minutes late to work everyday and out the door when their mental bell rings.
How long will that employee keep their job? Would they last for four or six months being late every day, even though they were smart and could produce the expected work? Of course not, my company cannot afford to lose fifteen minutes daily when I am paying someone top dollar by the hour to produce and excel.
* A student, through their entire academic career, has found it easier to pay for papers to be written than to write them on their own. Having never gotten caught the student has excelled.
* Again, my company hires this student who is an absolute brilliant writer. After the honeymoon is over two things will happen. The new employee will find that there are not a lot of co-workers willing to write for them and the company will find it has hired someone who couldn't put two words together sequentially if they were cut out and glued to a page.
The loser in both of these instances is the business, education's customer. Education systems should not, in addition to providing academic challenges, fail to provide those tools that students will need to succeed in the real world. Otherwise, we will continue to have very over-educated people working at menial jobs because they were swept away by the culture shock when they entered the real world of work and found that they 1) had to produce every day whether they felt like it or not; 2) had to be on time to work and meetings; and 3) actually had to prove themselves and their skills at some point in their work career.
What Students Deserve and Business Want
Students deserve an education that will transition them smoothly from an academic environment to a business environment with minimal adjustment. They deserve to learn how the interest on credit cards can impact their future and how balancing a checkbook or keeping records is important. They deserve the right to be expected to excel and overcome challenges proactively and be leaders. In other words, students deserve coursework that will actually apply to the business world they will spend the better part of their lives participating in.
As a business owner, speaker and trainer, I learned long ago that if a person has the ability to see obstacles as challenges, has the wherewithal to think out of the box to solve problems and the willingness to learn and share information, whether or not it will make them the focus of attention, they are an asset and can be taught any of the skills necessary to do an outstanding job.
It would be to the advantage of schools to ask businesses through surveys or consultants, what they are looking for in students; not just one study every four or five years, but regularly. In this way education processes could be adapted to meet the current and future needs of the companies and businesses that will be hiring those students when they graduate. In addition it would be more advantageous for school systems to develop a "business" mind. To expect excellence, a work ethic and promote real life application to educational theory.
Many students today must pass several exams during the course of their academic career to move from one grade level to another. I liken this to exams required by some companies to get a job or be promoted. Businesses have been doing this for a lot longer than school systems, and if nothing else, we do know that just because someone can pass an exam, does not mean they can do a job.
There are some very bright students out there who just can't pass a darn exam whether it is because they freeze up or just can't put pen to paper on demand. These students now have been given fewer choices and options to succeed. It is important that if you are a student who cannot write, cannot pass an exam, or have difficulty in a class, that you get the help you need before you get so frustrated that you quit or find that even if you do manage to get a degree you can't get a job that will last.
If you are a company who is trying to develop policies and procedures to address the inadequacies of the interviewees you are coming into contact with you do not want to spend valuable dollars on training basic skills. It is not cost effective and has no long term return on the investment that you put in.
It is time for the school system to start functioning like the business it is, meeting the needs of it's primary customers (the students) and long term customers (businesses). Without a synergy of effort of the part of education and business, we will continue to find that the gaps between educational theory and business needs is a chasm that is very difficult to jump.
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