I am not a fan of failure.
I am a huge fan of preparing our businesses – and our future corporate leaders – for success.
First, in brief, the failure. There is a recent report from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce entitled “Fragmented Systems: Connecting Players in Canada’s Skills Challenge”. The report is very blunt. It quotes a McKinsey & Company Canada survey: “Over half of graduates and around two-thirds of employers felt that graduates were unprepared for employment. In contrast, the vast majority of education providers – fully 83% – felt their graduates were employment ready.”
Let’s underline that: half of our grads don’t think they’re prepared for the jobs they are moving into. Two-thirds of employers agree with that pessimistic assessment. But educators are on an entirely different wavelength, with more than 80% saying the grads are job-ready.
That is a huge gap. Most employers say grads aren’t job-ready; most educators say they are. That’s a fine recipe for failure. I’m one of the employers. And I agree with that assessment.
But I don’t agree that it’s entirely up to the educators to find the answer. This is a situation calling out for collaboration at the highest levels.
A key recommendation of the Chamber of Commerce study is: “Strong collaboration between post-secondary institutions and business will be a crucial driver in supporting a knowledge and skill-based economy.”
I am a big fan of the kind of educational systems one can find in countries like Switzerland, Austria and Germany. I am a product – I like to think, a successful product – of the German dual education system of training and apprenticeships with employers and the options offered by the system to transition into a career path in engineering.
I became an apprentice at the age of 17, upon completing high school. My apprenticeship was in power electronics, with one of the largest mining companies in Germany. After qualifying as a fully licensed power electrician, I did my compulsory stint in the military, and then went on to obtain my degree in electrical engineering – and was able to support myself by working in my trade on weekends and during holidays.
But don’t take my word for it. In recent years, many experts have called for Canada, and the United States, to adopt the German approach in a much-needed effort to close the skills gap.
For instance, as early as 2013, a Bloomberg report was very clear: “If America wants to remain competitive, we have to keep our young people engaged. Germany has the right formula. U.S. business and political leaders should learn from the German approach and invest in creating and supporting a German-style vocational education system. Businesses will get the skilled workers they need, young people will see new career opportunities open up to them, our middle class will be strengthened, and our economy will benefit.”
In 2014, Maclean’s Magazine featured an article about the German system and quoted Sarah Watts-Rynard, the executive director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum: “In Germany, you have a culture where employers feel it’s not only their responsibility to train, but their right,” she says. “The education system is designed to train workers to meet employers’ needs.”
Clearly, I am not alone in believing that Germany offers a very good example that Canadian educators, manufacturers, and government should be following if we hope to close the skills gap and ultimately, strengthen our advanced manufacturing sector.