ECONOMY

An inadequate education system fails to provide future employees with necessary skills

The failure of most candidates in university entrance exams is relative: Most of them may have failed to score a «passing» grade (that is 10 on a scale from 0-20) but many of these people will find a place, albeit in technical colleges, because those generous entry quotas need to be filled. This is clearly a failure of our education system. This obvious conclusion is given further weight by a recent survey conducted by the Federation of Greek Industries on «Enterprise needs in cutting-edge specializations» (available online – in Greek – at http://www.sev.org.gr/online/). We have been hearing a lot recently about new trends in employment abroad which question the model of ever-decreasing working hours and, in fact, have started to reverse it. Domestically, there is little or no debate about it but it is doubtless the way employment will evolve in Greece as well. We have an obligation to be forthright with those young people who want to embark on higher studies: What will ultimately determine their future is not what mom and dad want – unless they have the financial means to carry their project – nor what the lifestyle magazines promise. It is the needs of private enterprises that will shape the young generations’ professional future. So, they would do worse than listen to the opinions of their future employers. According to the survey cited above, employers are looking for employees whose most important attributes – apart from the inevitable «good knowledge of the subject» are the following: – Ability to expand one’s knowledge and to adapt to technological and organizational change. – Communication skills, team spirit, entrepreneurship and decisiveness. – Ability to use, and take advantage of, new information and communications technologies. We could sum up the above requirements as «leadership, management and adaptability skills.» The greatest failure of our education system is precisely that. Neither the school, nor the cramming schools, which most students attend, nor, unfortunately, the family, prepare the young to acquire any of these skills. Seeking a permanent job in the civil service has become a pervasive ideology that goes across the political spectrum. The latest issue, concerning the hundreds of thousands of fixed-contract public sector employees promised permanent jobs by the present government before the elections, is characteristic of society’s excessive fixation on secure employment. Prospective university entrants and new job seekers, faced with the harsh reality of the private sector, turn to the cocoon of the public sector. This pervasive ideology has paralyzed generations and dealt a serious blow to any notions of self-sustaining development and of boosting the Greek economy’s competitiveness. Another element that highlights the failure of the education system is its assessment by businesses. Among the latter, 67 percent consider communications and decision-making skills «very important.» Only 3.2 percent think that the education system promotes these skills. In general, businesses give the education a grade of 1.7 on a scale from 0-5. Another of the many interesting findings of the survey concerns the failure of secondary education, which is, to a large extent, to blame for the consequent failure of tertiary education. The reason why enterprises seek certain skills and knowledge among university or technical college graduates is to fill jobs «that were traditionally filled by less educated individuals.» This situation, well-known from our daily experience, forces enterprises to set up an increasing number of in-house training schemes or seminars. This is something big enterprises can afford to do; it is, however, much more difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises that form the great majority of businesses and which are supposed to act as the engine of growth. An indirect, but related, effect of the situation described above is that the number of employees who work far more hours than the optimistic labor laws prescribe (something happening in few other European countries) has grown significantly over the past few years. A good job, in a good company, with a good salary, requires a working commitment of 50 hours per week, sometimes more. This is also true of professionals and all people working at least two jobs. This reality is ignored, in the most hypocritical way, by labor unions and political parties, which act as if they know nothing. However, when former Labor Minister Tassos Yiannitsis tried, three years ago, to redefine, and redistribute, overtime, he was set upon by both unionists and employers in unholy alliance. Meanwhile, the trends in Europe highlight the need for a more flexible labor market. Some German states have already increased the working week of their civil servants to 42 hours. IG Metall, the powerful metalworkers union, reached an agreement with Siemens that will keep two factories open in return for a return to a 40-hour working week from the current 35-hour week, applied flexibly. Three-quarters of Germans (60 percent of unionists) appear ready to work more hours without a raise in order to keep their jobs.