Tackling the European skills agenda with a bunch of global bankers

I was at a conference yesterday in the beautiful theatre of the Royal Institution in London, where they hold the annually televised Christmas Lectures, a tribute to the original electricity demonstrations by Michael Faraday.

The Royal Institution c. 1838

The Royal Institution c. 1838

The building looks very similar from the outside to the above 19th Century painting around the time it first opened, and is a blend inside of both historic and modern features. There were fears recently that the RI would be forced to move from it, which were fortunately allayed by an anonymous donation of £4.4m.

The subject of the conference was European jobs and skills and it was a joint collaboration between a global financial business and a UK think tank, together with other partners. Perhaps because of the location and the majority of attendees, the focus was very much on the UK and specifically England. There were a range of contributions from ministerial level down to individuals with a personal interest in the subject. My own professional interest was in the best connect between education and skills at an appropriate system level which produces real benefits for young people – see more on what I have termed Localised Strategic Education Partnerships.

The meeting did seem to revolve around this issue at times, as well as many others of course. There were fascinating case studies of people on the ground trying to make a difference to young people in difficult circumstances, but it would be invidious to single out any one scheme.

Suffice to say that it was pleasing to see how people from a range of backgrounds (including bankers, not the most popular professionals currently in the UK following large tax-payer bailouts) could engage together on trying to solve major problems such as: how do we guarantee stable, long-term employment for our current and next generations in Europe, or what kinds of future jobs will be available to us humans in an increasingly computerised age with growing environmental risks?

Even though it was April Fool’s Day, and the atmosphere was convivial, there was no sense that this key agenda merited any practical jokes. Far from it, if we really want to do something pragmatic for the future then we all need to engage seriously with the evidence and mechanisms to produce solutions.