Opinion: Study financing survey

POSTED: 05/30/12 10:09 PM

The Education Ministry’s initiative to conduct a study into the labor market’s education and training needs is in itself a pretty good idea. If we don’t know what the market needs, we don’t know which studies we have to recommend to our children either. But, as always, there is a catch here – at least something to consider.

The mantra of employers in the Netherlands has been for a long time something like this: those kids come out of school and they don’t even know how to hold a hammer. In other words: employers have thought for a long time that the Dutch education system was wasting tons of money of teaching kids stuff that had no value in the labor market.

What employers want are employees who are capable to perform duties in their companies. Simply put, if the employer is a carpenter, the new hand must know how to hold a hammer and how to drive a nail down. If the employer is a jeweler, the new hand must have an inking about jewelry and customer service.

If it were up to employers young people would get a one-dimensional education. Who needs to know stuff about, say, history, geography or literature? What good is that for someone who is going to be a carpenter, a plumber, a cab driver and what have you?

This is obviously a narrow-minded view on education, one we surely wish that our education Ministry is not pursuing. There has to be a balance between acquiring general knowledge and specific skills needed for a particular job.

To make matters more complicated: the labor market is not static. The economy is constantly moving, changing and developing. The skills that are needed today could be worthless a few years down the road.

Since the survey is linked to study financing, we suspect that the ministry’s goal is to narrow down the target group that will be granted such support. Do we need archeologists? Psychologists? Historians? Linguists?

Yes, we do.

And here is another complicating factor: the individual drive of the student. Who wants to study computer science when one’s heart is into literature or history? It is of course possible to move some students in a certain direction, but the idea that a country is able to direct the future of all of its citizens is simply not realistic. The idea is, in a way, a little frightening.

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