Recently I have seen various articles being shared across social media, on one hand, expressing the urgency in addressing the rising skills gaps in the UK, and, on the other, indicating shock of how inappropriate the school curriculum is for preparing young talent for both the labour market and life in general.
I, in no way, would call this 'breaking news'... McKinsey & Company has been analysing and reporting on this for good few years. Here are their 2019 and 2020 reports. These reports however focus on the people already in the workforce and therefore on upskilling and reskilling them. What they don't look at is the broader social context. However in terms of most recent media coverage sensationalising this as something that needs to be 'fixed', I think there are a few layers for to be understood and unpacked, before we head to solutionising:
How do we as parents speak to our children? Do we have different expectations from our girls than boys? Do we have awareness of the gendered language we use and how that influences our childrens' view of the world and therefore future choices? This important to understand and be aware of, as we are a product of a system ourselves and through our communications and behaviours, groom our children to adopt some (or most) of our biases. Including ones that stereotype one subject or profession being more masculine or 'suited for boys' over others and therefore psychologically discouraging and building barriers for our girls to enter STEM fields.
We need to recognise that it is almost exclusively Gen-Z (with some Gen Alpha) currently in the education system. These young people are born in the digital age and therefore engage with, absorb and process information in a very different way than we do. Yet, our education system and curriculum is still rooted in 1970’s at best. Children are also taught by generations that are “digital immigrants” and therefore do not fully relate to digital natives and their ways of learning.
Secondly, at school studies are predominantly theoretical, and one sided... When we learn the history or invention of certain (say) technologies, the curriculum is dominated by the great works of men. There are plenty of women who have been trailblazers in tech and innovation, however back then even when they did make discoveries and were the ‘brain’ behind an initiative, they were erased from it, because, well we all know why... The bottom line is that there are not enough women (let alone women of colour) represented in curriculum, which therefore creates this notion that 'discovering' and 'innovating' things is a man's job, and therefore leads to lack of visible role models.
Furthermore, schools do not focus on evolving emotional intelligence, which is critical in life and work. And by emotionally intelligent individual I mean one with such skills as empathy, social skills, adaptability, problem-solving skills, flexibility, assertiveness and concern for oneself and others. Empathy has been one of the 'biggest words' used over the past 12 months in leadership and workplace context; and the lack of it in social and professional settings has been incredibly damaging.
According to Forbes, many Gen-Z are skipping the uni and entering straight into the workplace. Therefore, businesses have to be prepared that there will be a level of training and coaching that this generation will require. However what this also means is that a lot of the ‘spreadsheet on top of a spreadsheet’ culture will need to get streamlined and simplified, as Gen-Z do not fully understand nor see its relevance to their roles (and to be honest, not many of us Millennials do either...)
What you can do today
Instead of waiting for the government or any other external force make you address your ways, why don't take some responsibility and initiative yourself? At the end of the day, they are already a quarter of the global workforce and nearly 70 million Gen-Z are about to enter the labour market. Here are three practical steps you can take today.
Reconsider how career development works within your organisation. How are you designing a culture of growth by creating on-the-job learning and development opportunities and de-emphasising promotions?
Develop a strong mentoring culture. Create opportunities for reverse, two-way and peer-to-peer mentoring. This is an excellent way for both sides to learn and grow, as it promotes creativity and innovation, encourages collaboration and idea sharing, and creates a safe space for both sides to learn more about others; their different backgrounds, views and beliefs and therefore fosters an environment of empathy.
Redefine the role of managers. Invest in the development of your managers and shift the mindset of looking at them as people leaders and effective coaches rather than 'working managers'.
Let's get to building the workforce of the future we all need!