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Home > News > August 2006 > 25 August 2006

Employers are prioritising school leavers 'soft skills', says survey

In the week when thousands of GSCE students receive their results, many of whom will now be looking for work, the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) has reiterated its call for Government and employers to work more closely together to improve the employability of school leavers.

The CIPD's views are based on the latest CIPD/KPMG quarterly Labour Market Outlook, a survey of over 1,400 UK employers, which found that employers are placing much more emphasis on the soft skills of school leavers such as communication skills and work ethic than on literacy and numeracy.

According to the report, while a quarter of employers list literacy as one of the key attributes they are looking for when recruiting from the current crop of school leavers, and over a fifth list numeracy, the attributes that top the list are communication skills, work ethic - the basic desire to do a good job - and personality.

Eileen Arney, learning and development adviser at the CIPD, said: "This year's exam results have shown that today's students are reaping the rewards from hard work at school. But those now entering the labour market need to recognise that this is not the end of the hard work. Today's employers are seeking a wider range of skills that include communication, interpersonal skills and developing a work ethic.

"Students, schools and employers need to work together to ensure that school leavers are ready for work. And the students themselves need to be prepared to keep engaging in lifelong learning to keep their skills up to date and attractive to employers.

"Our findings suggest that the education system might help close the 'employability gap' by seeking to introduce more oral-based tests and more work experience schemes. Such changes may benefit boys in particular who are seen as having weaker communication skills - which may explain why employers are more likely to rate girls more highly than boys at work after leaving school.

"School leavers themselves also need to take note that they are entering a competitive labour market. With a ready supply of willing and able workers throughout the EU, more people continuing or returning to work beyond the traditional retirement age, and government efforts to encourage long-term incapacity benefit claimants to return to work, school leavers who don't demonstrate a desire to work and the basic communication skills to thrive in the modern workplace, risk finding it hard to secure work."

According to the survey:

* The key attributes employers look for in school leaver recruits are communication skills (40% of employers rank this in their top three required attributes), work ethic (39%) and personality (32%). These rank higher than literacy (26%), numeracy (22%) and formal qualifications (25%).

* Almost two-thirds of employers (64%) report no change in the quality of school leavers during the past five years. One in ten consider quality to have improved, citing improvements in qualifications and a more mature attitude to work. However, a higher proportion of employers (26%) indicate that quality has deteriorated, pointing to problems related to listening skills, numeracy, and attitudes to work.

* Around half (52%) of employers report no difference in the quality of male and female school leavers. But the proportion rating females more highly than males (36%) greatly exceeds the proportion rating males more highly than females (3%).

* Half of employers ranked improved interpersonal skills in their top three suggestions when asked what the education system might do to improve the employability of school leavers. This was followed by greater efforts to encourage young people to take responsibility (40%), improvements in communication skills (38%), and better discipline (32%). Employers are more likely to stress the need for improvement in such intangible skills than in literacy (28%), numeracy (22%) and IT skills (19%).

* Among those employers that hire school-leavers, the most popular initiatives taken to help them make the transition into work are on-the-job training (cited by 86% of employers) and induction courses (83%). Just under half of employers surveyed (47%) offer apprenticeships. Around four in ten employers provide coaching and mentoring to school leavers while one in five employers provide training in literacy and numeracy.

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