By: Piers Lee LinkedIn, Managing Director of BVA BDRC Asia

As international schools boast of their students’ achievements in the recent IB, A level, and GCSE results, the question remains as to whether the traditional subjects taught across schools are really preparing students adequately for the future workplace. 

Parents are also employers, often responsible for recruiting young people to their organisations, so they are well placed to inform on the skills gaps that are evident among school leavers or graduates, and hence the subjects that should be taught at school or university. BDRC Asia surveyed parents to assess their views on the curricula currently taught at international schools.

Our research shows that parents generally support the teaching of traditional subjects and can even get nervous about new curricula/qualifications that might not be recognised by universities or employers. However, based on their own experiences in the workplace and how they have developed their careers, parents highlighted a range of ‘life skills’ and ‘business skills’ needed to help young people onto the career ladder, which could sit alongside traditional academic subjects.

These skills can be taught as co-curricular activities (CCAs) and can differentiate schools that might otherwise invest heavily in expensive facilities and buildings for arts and sports. These facilities do not necessarily differentiate the top schools from each other (e.g. many have Olympic-sized swimming pools) and hence are not points of differentiation.

The CCAs can differentiate schools from each other in an increasingly competitive market for schooling where parents have more choices. They can also help budget international schools with smaller campuses to market themselves when they are not able to boast such lavish sports and arts facilities as larger schools. These CCAs can be implemented via external partnerships with local businesses and corporate trainers, meaning the school does not have to take on such large overheads.

Some schools have rushed to implement the teaching of ‘global topics’, e.g. environmentalism and sustainability, and even social justice topics. While these are important to some parents, schools can get their priorities wrong, missing the much higher demand for skills relevant to preparing children for adulthood and the job market. These include financial management, organisational skills, and even stress management. Business skills, also in high demand, sometimes overlap with life skills – parents want children to be taught presentation skills, business writing, and the potential impact of artificial intelligence on the future job market.

Skills that will determine career development

As young people enter the workplace, the skills that will help determine career development are a combination of interpersonal skills and job-specific capabilities. Beyond full-time education, workers will need to upskill themselves and even gain more qualifications to stay competitive. Technical excellence and specialisation, e.g. having unique skills, will also be important. Combining this with ‘pure draft’, such as productivity, dedication, and hard work, should be a recipe for success. 

Many expect traditional employment contracts to diminish substantially in the future, and therefore young people might have to work as contractors or run their own businesses. Hence, entrepreneurial skills and a general appetite to deal with change will be important. In contrast, those skills that are more ‘company related’, e.g. playing office politics and having company loyalty, are deemed less effective for future career development. Indeed, changing jobs (albeit not too frequently) often facilitates faster career progression.

But most importantly, it is ‘leadership skills’ that will determine the career development of people in the workplace. The overriding importance of these skills should make leadership training a high priority within corporations, and maybe even essential to be taught at high school and university prior to people entering the  workplace.

The challenge for teachers and trainers is to determine the optimal leadership skills – for example, what works in one industry might not work in others. Within international schools, colleges, and corporations, the ‘correct’ style of leadership can vary considerably according to cultural norms across countries. But schools and corporate trainers can teach the various styles of leadership that are found across companies; it will be up to the individual to determine the style that most suits their own personality and whether there is demand for their style of leadership. If their subordinates don’t like it, they will not stay loyal! 

This article was first published in the Q3 2022 edition of Asia Research Media

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