When my children were young we had a huge climbing frame in our pocket sized garden. It started out as a simple climbing frame and over time we added a slide, a scramble net, monkey bars and a ladder. It was fantastic and fired our imaginations. It became a tent, a house, a train, an aeroplane, a spaceship, a reading den, the list was endless. It was adaptable, challenging, stimulating and great fun.
I remembered our climbing frame again after reading the recent UKCES report Climbing the ladder: skills for sustainable recovery. It uses the ladder of opportunity as a metaphor to identify key skills challenges for businesses in how effectively they make use of and develop their staff. The report suggests that three rungs on the employment ladder need repairing in order to help people get in, get on and move up in work:
- On the bottom rung it is a challenge to secure a first job. Many struggle to find opportunities which allow them to gain the vital experience to help the transition into the world of work.
- On the middle rung, many of those in work face problems moving up. The jobs market has fewer opportunities for those in low skill jobs to progress and fewer skilled individuals to choose from for those recruiting.
- On the top rung, businesses experience increasing problems with skills shortages, whilst at the same time many employees have skills which are not used. This mismatch inhibits productivity and growth.
Insightful evidence, but I agree with Bimrose’s (2011) succinct assessment of policy analysis in relation to learning and skills:
“What is missing in analysis of the skills problem is a sense of the progression of individuals through work across the life course. As a consequence the dynamic way in which individuals become engaged with learning and development pathways, which can involve up-skilling, re-skilling and sometimes transformational shifts in perspective as their careers unfold, has remained largely absent…”
At NIACE (and just like we did with my children) rather than a ladder we prefer the description of a climbing frame of opportunities. It describes most employment routes and careers more accurately across an individual’s working life. An employment route that is flexible, adaptable, changing, with nets to traverse, slides to enjoy and ladders up and down.
NIACE’s Manifesto – Skills for Prosperity Building a Sustainable Recovery for All – outlines our priorities which includes supporting individuals throughout their working lives. It proposes an entitlement to a Career Review at key transition points to help adults decide the skills development and learning that will work for them across their lifetime. NIACE’s Mid-life Career Review showed that investment in career guidance and development at key transition phases is successful. It leads to better decisions about the skills and learning that deliver fuller working lives and meet local employer demand.
As my family adventures clearly demonstrate climbing frames can become whatever you want them to be, forever changing, dynamic and thought provoking. Just like a job or career should be across a lifetime. In contrast, a ladder is always a ladder – leading you up or down.