Opportunity knocks, even at the worst of times

20 May 2021

By effectively managing risk, educational establishments can help ease students' fears about their future and prepare them for success.

Teacher and student in a meeting
Sarah Pearson, Head of Enterprise Risk Management points out that education establishments who take an integrated and joined up approach to managing risk can realise untapped opportunities to help students prepare for the future.

The digital divide brought into sharp focus

Even before the arrival of COVID-19, the dramatic and ongoing development of the internet had been incredibly testing for education establishments and for the young people in their care.
 
The web has changed the learning environment in ways we couldn’t have imagined even ten years ago. Over the years, access to the internet has exacerbated inequalities and mental health issues for many youngsters. These issues were brought into even sharper focus during the pandemic when millions of children were taught remotely.
 
And that’s without the additional challenges thrown up by climate change, and the geo-political fragmentation which is redrawing the map of the world even as I write.

Using Enterprise Risk Management to prepare young people for the future

If you look a little closer you’ll see that many future ‘risks’ can be turned into a rich, diverse, and growing range of opportunities by well-prepared education establishments whose leaders have thought carefully and seriously about Enterprise Risk Management.
 
The benefits of such preparation for students as they navigate the increasingly complex world and move out of education and into adult life, are enormous and obvious. Those education establishments which do engage in a timely and ongoing analysis of risks and opportunities, plan for their mitigation and act clearly and decisively, can also reap rich rewards themselves.
 
Of course, running an education establishment is a difficult and stressful at the best of times. Even the most talented and committed governors, head teachers, and senior staff can sometimes be so busy fighting the day-to-day challenges that they struggle to find the time to think ahead to the next week, never mind the next term, or the next decade. Sadly, we all know how quickly time goes, and so doing nothing is not an option.

Jobs of the future

Reflecting on the here and now, even during a grim situation like the COVID-19 pandemic the challenges are multi-faceted. For the time being at least, it has seriously impacted ‘gig economy’ jobs. When pubs and restaurants are locked down, there are no entry-level waiting and bar staff positions; similarly, when all but ‘essential’ shops on our High Streets are shut for months on end, sales floor and checkout workers are not needed. So for young people today, there are very few job opportunities in the current market.
 
But COVID is unlikely to be the last novel infectious disease we see. This has also highlighted the importance of scientific research, medicine, and data analysis, and not just in the UK but all around the world.
 
It is a fast-moving picture, but in his first budget Chancellor Rishi Sunak pledged to increase government R&D spending from £9bn a year to £22bn by 2024-25, and to fund a new Advanced Research and Innovation Agency for ‘blue skies’ projects. In his latest budget, he announced more money for vaccine studies, and tax breaks and other help for companies involved in hi-tech sectors2.
 
This is likely to have an impact on the number, type, and quality of jobs on offer. The future in these areas belong to youngsters whose education establishments have seen the risk and responded by ensuring that they offer the best possible education in areas like biomedical research and data analysis.

Climate change and diversity

Climate change is another serious issue, and one that is close to the hearts of many youngsters and their parents. So if an education establishment has a strategy which says, “What can we do to play our part here?” this will have two beneficial effects. The first – and most important – is that it will contribute to the fight. The second is an important additional benefit. By having a strategy, education establishments can compete and attract diverse students.
 
The opportunity could be to look at helping disadvantaged young people access innovative bursaries or scholarships, or to look at how education establishments are bridging the digital divide. At a time when the internet poses such immense challenges and opportunities, it is absolutely vital to have a properly thought-out digital strategy.

Youth disillusionment

It’s no secret that more and more teenagers are disillusioned. There are important and potentially distressing issues here around mental health and well-being, as well as children getting involved in social protest and even substance misuse.
 
In the past, adults might have been tempted to dismiss such behaviour, but the better way is surely to engage with them and help them to explore these issues in a healthy and safe learning environment.
 
Every young person benefits from clear behaviour management programmes and policies, and the counselling expertise and welfare support which should accompany them. Educational establishments which take these things seriously and professionally are likely to benefit, too. So it’s a win-win.
 
It is fair to say that it’s an optimistic message, above all. Yes, life sometimes gives you lemons – but that’s how you make lemonade.
 
Sarah Pearson, is head of Enterprise Risk Management, at Ecclesiastical
1 The Global Risks Report 2021 16th Edition – Insight Report - Published by World Economic Forum
 
Risk management public safety award 2019