RECENTLY I had the privilege of presenting degree certificates to a group of graduating students and I had been asked to say a few words of encouragement.
Congratulating them is the easiest part and certainly the least any successful student can expect.
We should also speedily put aside any views that qualifications are not as difficult as they used to be.
Any student can only deal with what is in front of them and comparisons with what may or may not have been the norm a generation ago are unfair. To quote LP Hartley, the past is a foreign land, they do things differently there.
My main concern was not to depress a talented group of individuals by making them feel their hard efforts will not necessarily lead into guaranteed employment ... and quite likely not into a job that reflects their qualifications.
The daunting prospect of a recession that may continue another five years, if the Governor of the Bank of England is to be believed (and I see no reason to disagree with his view), will be a sharp awakening to many of those who are the future of this country.
Yet despite a shortage of suitable jobs, I still hear the complaint from industry, and particularly in areas such as engineering, that there is a skills shortage. If this is the case, it raises the question why we turn out students with degrees that will do them no favours.
The answer may be that far too many courses are student-led rather than needs-oriented. Individual preference has priority over a broader economic requirement.
The choice of a career is an important aspect of a free society yet the issue of the best direction of limited funding in education needs to be addressed and perhaps the days have gone when a total free market can be allowed to continue.
It is no good employers complaining in isolation and if we are not producing the skills that will be needed in the future employers bodies, colleges and the Government will have to sit down and be more prescriptive as to what will be funded. It’s not an easy concept to accept, but we live in a changing world.
There is also a need to be more honest with our young people as to what careers they should follow.
Parental expectations are often the driving force and are influenced by so-called glamour careers. The “dirty jobs” of the past, such as engineering, are the need of the future and are likely to provide a far more rewarding career than is often thought to be the case. Those hard-working students deserve to hear reality from us, not soft words.
:: Bill Midgley is a North East business executive