Why education and training rarely equips the learner for work: New study

Why education and training rarely equips the learner for work: New study

Education and training

A new research briefing looking at why a university education and much training fails to equip students for the world of work has made an interesting finding…

In October 2017, one of the research briefings we sent out to members looked at a (then) new study looking at why a university education and much training fails to acquit  students for work. The study is unusual in that it examines the transition people have to make from the role of student to the role of professional.




One of the problems that the researchers discovered is that students are being conditioned throughout their studies and during training events to be successful in that environment. Further it has been found that some students find it difficult to adapt quickly to an organisational environment, where the standards and assessments of success differ significantly.


professional life



What this study discovered was that the issue revolves around moving or transitioning from an identity of being a student and a recipient, to being an active and proactive member of a team with differing purposes and aims.


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Further the research discovered that the identity an individual takes on is significantly shaped by the type and form of feedback they receive in either setting. We all tend to behave and construct our thinking, based on our expectations of what the environment demands. In other words, our behaviour and thinking changes dependent on the identity we assume in any particular context. The identity of a student is very different from that of a contributing member of a team with responsibilities and accountability. Additionally, the relationships a student has with their peers and their trainers / lecturers vary considerably to the relationships they will have with their co-workers, managers and leaders. Again, these relationships are critical indicators of the identity we assume in any situation.


Transition from education to working life


The student identity

The researchers found that the key elements of a student identity are moulded and constructed by the tasks that they have to undertake and the relationships they have with others.

Essential elements of a student identity are:


  1. To be in attendance
  2. To listen
  3. To stay quiet until addressed
  4. To follow the predominant thinking rubric
  5. To accept and apply frameworks and theories
  6. To accept what has been taught
  7. To avoid and reduce ambiguity
  8. To focus on themselves
  9. To compare their own performance with their past grades
  10. To demonstrate learning
  11. To get a clear direction
  12. To follow the direction of the trainer or lecturer
  13. To get clear feedback on performance with grades.




The worker identity


As may be expected the core identity elements of someone in work is significantly different from that of the student. The researchers found that the essential elements of the workplace identity include:


  1. Active participation
  2. Increasing levels of control
  3. The need to go beyond the dominant rubric
  4. The ability to be able to challenge frameworks
  5. The ability to think situationally and change thinking from context to context
  6. Cope with and accept ambiguities and uncertainties
  7. Focus on the team and the organisation
  8. Compare their performance in relationship to other workers
  9. Be engaged in a manager employee relationship
  10. To demonstrate performance within the workplace
  11. To be able to work without supervision and often without clear guidance
  12. The ability to build to work towards understanding goals and deliverables
  13. To understand a variety of expectations and complex interpretations.


The shift from student to worker


The difference


As can be seen from these the elements of the student and work identity are significantly different. Additionally, the relationships that a student has with their peers and teachers are significantly different and have considerably different expectations to those they will have in the workplace.

In short, the skills, knowledge, attitudes and relationships one needs to succeed in a learning environment are significantly different to those required in a working environment. So, whilst at a knowledge level, the learning appears to be focused on equipping people to enter the workplace, at a deeper level, that of identity, the development is significantly different. It is exceptionally rare for either the learning environment or the work environment to explore these differences, to enable the student to focus on the transition into a work place identity more easily.



The researchers conclude that educational and training environments should engage with helping the students develop a “work-ready” identity so that they are equipped to enter the workplace. This they feel will help increase the transfer of learning into the workplace.


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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page