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Are we measuring the right things ?

We start being measured from our earliest years and there is no let up for the rest of life.  As a child we measure how tall you are, how much you weigh and at what age you can talk, walk or write. Then it’s schooling, with continuous academic assessment and exams, before entering the workplace with its whole new world of KPIs and financial measurements

With so many things to measure, one has to question if we are looking at the right things. With every problem we rush to add new measurements, but outdated ones are rarely consigned to the trash bin.  To get a sense of the overload, just listen to medics, police or teachers talk about the volume of paperwork they are inundated with every day.

With the absence of public exams this summer it seems timely to re-evaluate what we are measuring, focusing on the transition from finishing education and heading into employment.  Parents and students are understandably concerned about the lack of external exams, new grading methods and how it might impact future prospects.  But will the results truly make a difference?

Academic grades have long been used as a proxy for how well you might perform in a job. The prevailing wisdom has been that if you get a good degree, you are set for life which has led to more than 50% of young people in the UK going to University.

In looking for that first salaried job, having a degree helps your prospects, but does an academic qualification matter more than the skills you have acquired whilst completing your education?  Well it depends who you ask. For teachers and many parents, a degree is the pinnacle of academic success and all schooling leads towards it.  By contrast employers will tell you there is a skills deficit which outweighs any grade on a piece of paper.

What’s needed at work is an ability to communicate.  Some of this is written, but most of the time it’s verbal, along with the underrated qualities of being able to listen attentively and ask probing questions.  We need young people who can work together, to problem solve and make decisions, who can manage their time and meet tight deadlines.  Those who demonstrate empathy, resilience and a strong work ethic invariably succeed.  These skills and behaviours are the key drivers of productivity and business prosperity.

Amidst this lockdown many young people are helping in their communities.  They are volunteering, giving their time and helping out. Some are even setting up new businesses. Yet there is no grade for this?   Surely this is as valuable an indicator of an individual’s potential as any academic grading.

To make the most of life’s opportunities, you need more than knowledge.  For those parents worried about their children’s grades this summer, exams are not everything. Look at today’s entrepreneurs and business leaders, many of whom had underwhelming academic results. Instead we should be turning to skills and new measures as a more insightful predicator of future success.