High-tech or High-touch: Who do their best?

The belief that more education will make Britain more meritocratic and shrivel the class system lies behind the huge expansion in higher education of the past two decades and the government's determination to steer half the country's 18-30-year-olds into universities. The idea that we live in a "knowledge economy" has strengthened that notion. But recent research casts doubt on it. Education plays a smaller role in social mobility than it used to, according to research which looked at the relationship of people's education to their careers in the early 1970s and early 1990s.

Why should the impact of education on social mobility be declining? Because employers are becoming less interested in educational qualifications. That's happening for two reasons. Part of the job of higher education is to send a signal to employers that someone has learnt to think, to persevere, to absorb information and to present ideas. As the supply of graduates grows, and the quality of teaching in Britain's shabby, crowded universities declines, this signal is fading. At the same time, services have been growing at the expense of manufacturing, and, increasingly, the qualities that employers in the service sector want are those the middle classes acquire at home: articulacy, confidence and smartness.

To test the hypothesis that employerspay little attention to educational qualifications, the Oxford researchers analysed 5,000 recruitment advertisements and interviewed people doing the hiring. Firms, they discovered, want recruits with skills that formal education does not necessarily bring: "high touch" in the jargon, rather than hi-tech. Typical examples are management jobs in fast-growing industries such as leisure and retailing, as well as posts in public relations, in salesand customer care.

Employers themselves say much the same thing. "What our members want is office and personal skills rather than more advanced education," says Matthew Knowles, policy adviser at the British Chambers of Commerce, a group for small and medium-sized businesses. "You see a lot of people from university who take three to six months to pick up the skills for an office job. They could do that by the age of 19 and start moving up. Instead they spend three years at college and then take a job they would have taken anyway."

Financial-services employers echo those views. Bruce Collins, chief executive of Tullett Liberty, a City broker, admits non-graduates to his graduate trainee scheme. "We want inter-personal skills, awareness, attitude, eagerness to learn: are they rounded individuals? What's their social life?" he says. "They've got to come across well, not just talk the numbers but build relationships." The result, he explains, is a workforce where a "guy with an O-level in woodwork sits next to a guy with a PhD in mathematics".

Marks & Spencer whittles down the 6,000 annual applicants for its 200 graduate trainee places entirely through tests of literacy, numeracy, reasoning and personality. This big retailer takes no account at all of the class or subject of degree, or the university attended.

All that chimes with the Oxford research, which showed formal qualifications featuring in only a quarter of the advertisements in the sample, typically for top-level jobs. In the sales and personal service category, less than 10% stipulated educational qualifications. What these posts did require were skills in communication and team-working, and personal attributes such as good appearance, good manners, character and presence. Bad luck, then, for those who come across as tongue-tied, crass or nervous, regardless of their academic achievements.

Assuming, reasonably, that job adverts reflect what employers really want, this neatly explains why education matters less than the believers in meritocracy expected. "If you are selling high-value things like real estate, you will be interacting with middle-class people and you will do better if you are familiar with their style, manners etc," says John Goldthorpe, one of the paper's authors. "It's not much use having some graceless anorak, however impressive his or her degree. The attributes that these people have from their family background have some real commercial use. It's not nepotism. Employers know what they want."

Mike Hill, of Prospects, a state-funded career service, says "universities are encouraging people to develop just these skills to speak in a businesslike way, to make small talk." One example is Hull University, where a popular module in "career skills", includes "the world of work", time management and how to talk in a business environment. Great stuff but not necessarily worth spending three years at university and running up many thousands of pounds in debt.

(The Source: adapted from www.economist.com/node/2352932 )


D. Complete the table with information from the text:

Advantages and disadvantages of high-tech Advantages and disadvantages of high-touch
1. 1.
2. 2.

E. Read the text again and answer the questions below:


1. What does the phrase knowledge economy mean?

2. Is it true that nowadays education plays a smaller role in social mobility? Why?

3. What skills and qualities of graduates are of vital importance for employers now?

4. Why do employers pay little attention to educational qualification of graduates?

5. How doe you understand the phrases high touch and hi-tech?

6. Do you agree with the point of view that nowadays education matters less in life-long careers?

F. Briefly summarize the main idea of the text using the words and word combinations in bold. Use the following helpful clichés:


The title of the article is .

The article is about .

The author tells us about and underlines that .

It should be mentioned (stressed) that .

The author thinks (believes, supposes, notes) that .

In my view

I personally think (believe, suppose) .

In conclusion I can state that .


  1. A. Look at the pie-chart and say whether other search service providers operate in the Russian market. Do you check their ads more than once?
  2. A. Match pictures 1 7 with their descriptions 1) 6).
  3. A. Match professions with their definitions.
  4. A. What countries is English the first language? Match English-speaking countries with their national flags and capitals.
  5. Ask your friend questions in English about their content. Summarize his/her answers.
  6. B. Match the words with their definitions.
  7. B. Match the words with their definitions.
  8. B. Read the text and match the highlighted words to their definitions.
  9. C. Before you read the article, match the following words with their definitions.
  10. C. Read and answer the questions about the following people who proved their teachers wrong and express your own opinion on each story.
  11. C. Read the text and match the highlighted words to their definitions.
  12. C. Read the text and match the highlighted words to their definitions.

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II. Reading | III. Vocabulary: Employment

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