It takes a village…

‏In the short time since I last submitted a blog it seems the world has taken another step along the path to crazy. The scandals of Weinstein, Westminster, and Spacey et al say nothing good about the world in which we live…

I was reminded of the quote attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville that “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve” and wondered if the same can be said for the populace of a free society – is what we’re seeing merely the product of our actions? Is this what we “deserve”?

As a “learning professional” I spend a lot of time talking about culture. Like most businesses the organisation I serve wants to help shape a positive culture because it recognises the benefits that will bring to it and its people.

To do this we need to define what we mean by culture and understand how each of us can impact it. One of my favourite definitions is that it’s the “sum total of all the conversations – good and bad – that are taking place”.

Clearly, those conversations will be influenced by the makeup of the group, its maturity and experience, as well as its emotional intelligence etc. As a result, a prevailing set of behaviours will emerge – regardless of any pre-defined set of behavioural competencies handily developed by HR – and voila, you have a culture…

So behaviour is important, as is the ability to communicate confidently and competently what you’re thinking and speak up when you think there’s a need to. This is interesting when you hear that The Prince’s Trust has just completed a survey of thousands of young people, teachers and workers across the UK to understand their experiences of developing the soft skills vital to this type of development.

You can read the article here but, in short, it says what we already know: these skills are hugely important to employers; young people feel they need them to appear job ready and able to navigate the job market and teachers think schools should be doing more to help.

The article goes on to say that 91% of the teachers’ surveyed think schools should be doing more and 43% of the young people they spoke to feel ill-prepared for work – a figure backed up by 27% of the teachers who feel their students don’t have the soft skills they need to do well after school.

This begs the question, what can be done? Well, it starts in school but it’s not for schools to solve alone. They need support from business and legislators, collaborating to bring together the academic and soft skills development the students need.

The good news is this is already happening in some places with pioneering schemes in places like Bradford whose Pathways programme brings together education, business and the city council as a group working to build a dynamic and innovative workforce for now and the future.

These programmes need our support; the students need coaches and mentors to help them develop not just academically but as individuals. The schools need guidance from business to understand what’s important to prospective employers and work placements to help the students continue to grow.

At NG Bailey we set ourselves a target to have 5,000 meaningful discussions with young people in the five years to 2018. It’s a target I’m proud to say we are well on course to beat.

We could have set a goal that related to work placements, or work experience, or projects but we wanted to engage with young people regardless of where they saw their careers heading and help them to make good decisions – informed by the facts. It’s the conversation that matters.

Our training and development programmes, whether apprenticeships, leadership or team development focus heavily on support. It’s a journey and journeys always seem to pass quicker with a little company…

We have become obsessed with academic qualifications, with recent reports stating that some graduates now think that a “mere” degree is not enough to get them the role they want. Our obsession needs to stop.

The double helix of our DNA is a useful metaphor for our problem. Each side needs the other to complete itself. Likewise, academic knowledge will only take you so far – knowing what you have to do is only part of the puzzle, knowing how to do it is the charm.

Those “soft skills” are anything but, they are the means by which we effectively deploy everything we know.

I started with a quote, I’ll end with a proverb: They say “it takes a village to raise a child”, and I keep hearing that we’re part of a global village so perhaps we need to think about what that means and step up to the challenge.

Or we could just stop reading the papers…