If it’s broken, fix it!

The problems that are at the core of why productivity in the UK is amongst the lowest in Europe (a Frenchman could go home at lunchtime on Thursday having achieved as much as an English worker) and the way in which we facilitate wealth creation in Britain. We are terrible at it. And there is one overriding reason.

Let me start by telling you what that reason isn’t.

It isn’t a lack of investment, or the welfare state, or the lack of opportunities or Brexit. These are all symptoms of the cause which is our broken education system.

Here’s a quick reminder of why we have a 19th century Industrial Age education system which is no longer fit for purpose in the 21st century. At the start of the industrial revolution those with existing wealth needed an almost limitless supply of labour to work in their factories and mines. But the skills they possessed weren’t up to the job, so the industrialists created an education system to produce a lot of people with an identical average skill set based on learning what to repeatedly do. Apart from a few industrialists (such as Lord Leverhulme who also looked after his workers) most exploited them. Generations of workers were brainwashed into accepting poor pay and conditions for life.

If you wanted to get off this treadmill you had to pay; for professions such as the law and accounting workers (or more likely their parents who could afford it) paid to learn a profession so they could start their own business.

Our education system today pretty much still emulates this model.

Let’s look at the problem from the point of view of how the 19th century industrialists would have fixed it: start with the end in mind.

What do we want a 21st century education system to produce? Certainly not averagely educated workers taught to expect to leave school or university and start to work for 40 -50 or so years for someone else in repetitive low paid work. Those ‘jobs’ are now being done in low wage economies and by robots.

What if, instead, the expectation of a school leaver was to start a business, innovate, collaborate and create wealth? How different would the curriculum look? Maybe lessons in how to really think into problems, innovate, experiment (and fail repeatedly), financial management, leadership, people management and studying successful entrepreneurs.

And where would this education take place. Is the 200 year old model of a classroom or lecture theatre really fit for purpose? Is the proliferation of undergraduate courses anything other than an excuse for the lack of ‘jobs’ for the under 25s?

Most university courses are now irrelevant and often counterproductive; they add little to the skills needed as an entrepreneur. Look at any degree course in Business and Marketing and you’ll find the learning is several years behind what is happening in practice.

Learning the skills needed to start a business and become an entrepreneur happen online and by gaining hands-on practical experience working in leading edge businesses. Delivering education online would save billions from the education budget enabling the investment to be moved from building worthless assets to creating world class training.

Of course there is a still a need to learn the technical skills required in the digital age but this can be done in your late teens.

But, you may argue, 80% of the business and political leaders both here (and in the US) went to the top schools and universities such as Cambridge and Oxford. Quite true, but as Michael Young pointed out in The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958) getting into elite universities requires both a high IQ and determination, the same characteristics that make them leaders. A degree from an elite university is not the cause of subsequent success.

There is a lot to approve of in the Conservative Party Manifesto but then that’s all it is. As entrepreneurial business owners know the secret to success is in the implementation of a plan. But this one isn’t ambitious enough when it should be bold – but then nor is anyone else’s.

Noel Guilford, Principal at Guilford Accounting
Noel Guilford is the principal of Guilford Accounting a small business accountancy practice specialising in advising owner-managed businesses on current accounting, finance, and tax matters. You can reach him via email at noel@guilfordaccounting.co.uk or by phone at 01244 660866. He is the author of the 'Figure it out - an entrepreneurs guide to understanding your business numbers' which you can obtain by visiting guilfordaccounting.co.uk.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ His latest book, How to Build a Successful Business' will be published in 2018.

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