When I recently had a chat with a (German) 15 year old, he complained that the IT instruction at school was woefully outdated – all they learnt was Java programming. How’s that going to be useful, he asked? I nodded politely, and tried not to look outdated too myself. One of the most regular statements I hear about graduates, and ‘young people’ in general, is that they don’t have the most basic professional skills – or pretty much any skills at all. Following the stereotype, they are all constantly late (if they show up at all), half-literate due to using text speak, facebooking their future away by posting insensitive comments or inappropriate selfies. Somehow their Java programming skills must disappear into the same black hole my Latin did. Now, whoever reads this blog will know that I have a much more positive view of ‘young people’ than that – and it’s backed up by the CIPD’s excellent research on the topic. Let’s take attitude aside – of course they have skills gaps (it’s probably more about app programming than Java). It’s their job to have skills gaps. The pursuit of knowledge and skill is nurtured by recognizing these, and addressing them. Not via rote learning, Michael Gove style though. I’ve always reacted very badly to this approach (here you call it ‘Victorian’, where I grew up it’s the ‘Nuremberg Funnel’), and can understand any teenager well (and let’s face it, our first years in higher education are teenagers), who tries to subvert it by playing the system, or pushing back. But again – this is not about attitude. So back to skills and knowledge: @vonprond wrote previously in his excellent blog about the fact that you need a critical mass of knowledge in order to understand a topic, and make meaningful judgements about it. I agree, but I want to make clear that classic knowledge (and I consider being proficient in at least one other language than your own one of them) doesn’t have to be taught in a classic way (see above). In learning, as in life in general IMHO, form should always follow function: the how you do something should always be governed by the what you do. Literacy for example is a lot more than just reading and writing on paper – it encapsulates the ability to produce and interpret content; and let’s face it, this will mostly be digital now. To bring it back to ‘young people’ as mentioned above: their natural medium is to use their thumbs and a keyboard to bring their ideas to the fore – let’s not limit them by making them do something they rarely will ever have to do in the workplace (like hand-writing on paper), but help them learning how to produce good content. It might not turn text speak to poetry, but it might help ensure that what is written is understandable and effective. ‘Getting the basics right’ doesn’t mean taking their tools away, and then lambasting them for failing – I think it’s more about ‘us’ (the not so young people collectively) having a gap of understanding of what counts in the future workplace (often combined with a healthy fear of technology). The texting youths we complain about are our (future) customers, they will run the place (and miraculously to the same standard as we do now), and they will also be our carers – so let’s make sure we help them understand our world, and learn with them how it is shaped by technology. And finally, let me just bust a couple of myths about attitude and professional behaviours: people in the workplace now are late for meetings (if they show up – it’s academia, you can never be sure), typos abound in emails (handwritten notes are illegible), and they play with their smart phones in meetings. But overall, we’re still doing a decent job, don’t we?