PINSTRIPE

Why is it that modern society is so obsessed with certificates? Scotland seems to have a bad case of the affliction but it is a rising tide everywhere.

Children are measured by how well they do in exams - that’s fine but the impression you get is that it is the child who is being measured rather than their proficiency in a particular subject. No certificates and you are no good, not going to make it, condemned to the slow lane.

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How strange it is then that in my business life I have found the correlation between lots of impressive exam results and truly impressive people remarkably weak. Of course there are exceptions - a good number of them - but not enough to remove my doubts. On too many occasions I have found the highly decorated academic hero to be lacking in character, determination, common sense and charm. On the other hand those with a less dazzling CV often seem to have more of those characteristics - which are the ones which generally matter most in business in the long run.

Whole swathes of work opportunities are becoming closed off to those who don’t have the right certificates; the gifted generalist, the able child with a learning difficulty, the older person who has lost their job and wants to “have a go” at something new - all put off by the paper barrier.

Generally, those who put these barriers up do so in the name of quality and standards. Some are justified - who wants their surgeon to have been a plumber until the day before? - but many are not. Why do we insist that you need a degree to be a nurse - really? Why? Do caring intelligent people always have degrees - of course they don’t.

The police are also going the same way - no degree, no chance to be a bobby. We are told it is because the increasingly complicated and regulated world in which the police have to operate requires the skills which a degree instils - absolute rubbish. The right answer is to hack back the regulations, not to cheat the strong lad with few exams but a clear sense of right and wrong, good people skills and an eye for trouble, his chance to serve in our police force.

In many cases it is unions, with the connivance of educationalists and encouragement of politicians, who hurry this trend along. Under cover of defending standards or public safety they narrow the entry route to jobs and are therefore better able to drive up wages for their members.

Ironically , it is in education that this trend most damages our economy. Scotland’s teaching unions resolutely defend the traditional route into teaching which they have helped create and strongly influence. At the same time Scotland slips down from its once proud position in world rankings for educational outcomes for its young people. Rarely do we see teachers fired for being useless - yet some are. Through social quota systems our universities are forced to try to deal with the challenges our school system has been unable to overcome.

In England, especially in London, they decided some years ago that new paths into teaching, to allow talented people who had done well in other fields a fast track into teaching might help turn around a failing system. It worked. London's recent progress in educating its citizens is remarkable. We should poke the unions in the eye and be innovators in Scotland too.

Pinstripe is a senior member of Scotland's financial services community.