With those 5 words, Steve Jobs defined his vision for the iPod. It is easy to see how such a vivid yet ultimately simple picture would have inspired his workforce. What I don’t know is to what extent Apple employees were involved in creating that vision or were simply told what it was.
I raise the question because recent research is showing that levels of employee engagement are falling, not just in the UK but in the whole of Western Europe and the USA. At MindLeaders, my previous company, we consistently obtained scores above 90% in surveys where we tested employee engagement. I believe that was partly because like Steve Jobs, we had a very clear vision of where we wanted to take the company. But more importantly, that vision had not simply been articulated to our people, they had had the opportunity to help create it and to contribute significantly to the culture and values which underpinned that vision. It’s a philosophy and a strategy which we will duplicate within our new company, Creative Learning Partners, as it builds and develops over the coming months.
So in the light of the current heated arguments about reforms to the UK education system and the U-turn over the EBacc, the first thing I wondered was whether Michael Gove had a genuine vision for the system and more importantly, could he articulate it to all the stakeholders in a few inspiring words and had he involved them in its creation? I suspect that the answers to those 3 questions are “Maybe”, “No” and “No”. Mr Gove has set out a radical agenda which depending on your viewpoint is either the kick-start that a broken system requires, or a return to the class-based system of the 1950’s. What concerns me isn’t so much as to whether he is right or wrong but the fact that he would appear to have made no genuine attempt to involve practitioners in defining his vision for education. Whilst a Conservative Education Minister and the teaching unions are hardly likely to be bosom pals, there surely should be greater efforts to find some common ground.
Take for example, what to my mind are two of the biggest problems we face in the UK – the deficiencies in basic maths and English skills in young adults and the huge disconnect between the needs of employers and the skill base of potential employees. Few people would argue about the depth of this crisis so is not possible to seek a common vision as to how we address this issue and then agree a comprehensive strategy to implement it? I would argue that currently all we are seeing is a series of piecemeal initiatives without a common thread and with only grudging support from those whose job it is to make them work.
So I worry about the proposed Traineeship programme due for implementation in September this year. Potentially I think it is a hugely exciting development but where does it fit in to the overall plan (assuming that there is one!). Whilst I welcome the inclusion of a discussion period currently underway, the danger is that that this discussion will take place in isolation since few of us are party to where this initiative sits within the wider context of our education and skills system.
Sadly our Education system, like our other great institutions, will always to some extent be a political football, subject to the philosophies of the party in power. But that shouldn’t prevent us from being given the chance (if we wish) to buy into a shared vision. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t do that at the moment because I have no idea what that vision is. We can’t all be a Steve Jobs but we can all paint pictures and share them and our political masters should be doing so far more frequently.
Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills