Guardians of our most treasured possessions;Business Links;Viewpoint;Opinion

26th June 1998 at 01:00
What do banks and schools have in common? They both look after valued items. This link is one reason why they should work together for the good of global competitiveness.

Credibility is the foundation of a powerful message. So, what credibility can a business leader running an international bank have with education professionals?

It may sound simplistic, but it could be said that the culture within a bank was, in the past, quite similar to that in the education system. A bank and a school have traditionally been seen as cornerstones of a community. Both have clients who place their most valued possessions (money, children) in their hands. This trust can create a culture of caution and reluctance to change.

However, change we must. Research commissioned by NatWest for a joint conference with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority on financial literacy last November put the challenge of change in sharp relief. In the research, the think-tank Demos pointed to global competition and technological innovation as the two key drivers for change in the workplace.

With the growth of the digital economy, knowledge gathering and its flow will become the measure of a successful organisation. Already the division of labour is changing as hierarchical pyramid structures flatten in favour of horizontal-based models of management. Patterns of work are also changing as part-time, flexible working and commissions contribute to the development of organisations.

Business, not least financial services, has been feeling the effects of this revolution for some time. Now, education is entering a period of significant change.

There is a tremendous opportunity for the two sectors to study each other and to learn the art of change management. Business has experience of multi-layered target-setting and value-added assessment. These business tools should be powerful in the education system in making the most of its resources.

The incentives for the two sectors to work together are obvious: economic efficiency and social responsibility.

For business, the global challenge of managing change is immense. We need the education system to help prepare people for a flexible future.

For the education system, preparing young people for their place in the world seems to me to be the basis of its mission.

Lifelong learning must now be a reality; it places the onus on the education system to ensure there are firm foundations. Basic skills such as numeracy and literacy are its bedrock, but are not sufficient in themselves.

The changing world calls for an emphasis on life skills, such as effective teamworking, problem solving and creative thinking. It is in the area of life skills that business has some insights and can contribute in the classroom.

Over the past 10 years, NatWest has been working to promote the importance of financial literacy and enterprise skills. In the classroom, our award-winning programme Face 2 Face With Finance, now registered with more than 50 per cent of secondary schools, demonstrates the practical power of business involvement.

If business is going to recruit the ideal employees of the future and to serve customers in better and more imaginative ways, it needs to understand and contribute to the development of the education system. Business can and must contribute to policy at a national level and through local involvement in schools.

However, this is not enough. Business has learnt lessons about what works in change management, target setting and reward structures as part of the ongoing battle to survive in the global marketplace. Business must share these lessons with the education system to help inform its thinking about change management.

Through chairing the Business in the Community education leadership team and also the National Advisory Council for Education and Training Targets, I am playing my part. This is not a "nice to do" task, this is a "must do" if business and our society are to continue to be competitive on the global stage.

* Derek Wanless is chief executive of NatWest Bank

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