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School and college leavers lacking in basic skills, says CBI/EDI survey
According to the CBI/EDI Education & Skills survey 2011, 42% of employers are not satisfied with the basic use of English by school and college leavers, while more than a third (35%) are concerned with the basic numeracy skills in this age group.
The survey of 566 employers found that 44% of employers have invested in remedial training for school and college leavers to address the weaknesses in basic skills.
John Cridland, CBI director-general, said: "It’s alarming that a significant number of employers have concerns about the basic skills of school and college leavers. Companies do not expect them to produce 'job-ready' young people, but having a solid foundation in basic skills, such as literacy and numeracy, is fundamental for work.
"These findings are echoed in the OECD PISA survey which shows that between 2000 and 2009 secondary school pupils in the UK fell in international rankings for reading, maths and science.
According to the survey, companies also found school and college leavers lacking in important employability skills, with 69% saying they have inadequate business and customer awareness, and over half (55%) experiencing weaknesses in school leavers’ self-management skills. Two thirds (70%) want to see these made a top priority at school and college.
John Cridland said: "Employability skills are crucial to making the smooth transition from education to the workplace, but companies are finding that school leavers lack many of these essential competencies. The best way to overcome this is to embed the teaching of these skills into curriculum and course structures."
The survey found that employability skills are the single most important consideration for 82% of businesses when recruiting graduates, followed by degree subject (68%) and relevant work experience (67%).
Levels of employer satisfaction with the employability skills of graduates are higher than for school and college leavers, but 70% of employers say that university students need to do more to prepare themselves to be effective in the workplace.
Business investment in skills
The survey found that 41% of employers plan to increase investment in training during the coming year, compared to only 14% last year. Over half (55%) are already involved in apprenticeships and 17% say they will become involved in the next few years.
Nigel Snook, EDI chief executive, said: "Businesses know they need to play their part in investing in skills as the economy begins to recover to drive sustainable long-term growth. As a result more employers plan to increase their staff training programmes over the next year.
"Because the basic skills levels of school and college leavers are often insufficient, many employers have to redirect their resources to provide remedial training to get these areas up-to-scratch.
"If school leavers do not have a sound base in English and Maths, then employers will find training staff in more advanced skills increasingly difficult."
Skills in the recovery
The CBI says that while sustainable economic growth will require reshaping of the UK economy putting more emphasis on high-value export oriented goods and services, there is a shortage of people with the right type of high-level and intermediate skills to support this.
The survey found that 66% of employers consider skill levels among their employees satisfactory for current activities. However, 52% are not confident of meeting future needs for increased numbers of high-skilled employees, particularly in science, engineering and maths.
43% of employers surveyed said have difficulty recruiting staff in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), while 53% expect to have difficulty in the next year. According to 62% of businesses, the Government must tackle these shortages by promoting science and maths in schools, and supporting STEM-related apprenticeship programmes (54%).
John Cridland said: "With UK businesses looking to win a larger share of global markets as we rebalance the economy, the skills bar is constantly being raised by international competition. Higher-skilled employees, especially in science, technology, engineering and maths will be some of the most in demand.
"The Government must improve the take-up of science and maths in schools and support the development of STEM apprenticeship programmes so that employers are able to recruit the right people to drive growth."
Barriers to investment in skills and apprenticeships
According to the survey, 56% of businesses want a reduction in levels of red tape associated with accessing Government funding and support for training. In addition, 56% of respondents said they want more financial incentives for recruiting and training.
The survey found that SMEs represent a large untapped market in terms of the potential for up-skilling through apprenticeships: only 14% of smaller firms currently provide apprenticeships, compared to 83% of organisations with over 5,000 staff.
Nigel Snook said: "Apprenticeships are a valuable way of improving skill levels and it’s encouraging that so many large companies are already involved in these schemes, but more small firms need support to take on apprentices.
"There is huge potential for up-skilling in smaller companies, but the Government must cut bureaucracy, because without dedicated human resources, smaller firms struggle to deal with constantly changing processes."
Businesses and the education system
Many companies already have links with universities (80%) and this growth is set to gain pace. The survey found that:
This engagement can take several different forms including businesses providing sandwich years for work placements (46%) and partnering with universities on research and innovation (40%). When asked about priorities for higher education, 64% of companies said that courses should be made more business relevant.
Engagement with secondary schools is a clear priority for employers:
Priorities for public investment
Apprenticeships should be the priority for public training and support, according to 65% of employers, followed by basic literacy and numeracy skills, highlighted by 52% of companies.
External training providers
Many firms use external provision (89%) to deliver part of their training to staff:
* 80% of companies use private providers
* 36% work with further education colleges
* 26% work with universities
The survey found that private providers performed more strongly on method and delivery and the need to fit in with the day-to-day running of the business, 73% of employers said training was delivered on time and at a convenient location and 72% at a convenient time. Further education colleges performed best on costs, with 52% of employers satisfied with value for money. Companies were most satisfied with the quality of training (60%) and the relevance of course content (59%) provided by universities.
The survey found that 76% of employers are not satisfied with the level of foreign language skills among young people. Only 27% of businesses say they have no need for foreign language skills.
The greatest single demand for these skills is in building relationships overseas, cited by 21% of companies. According to the survey, the languages most in demand from employers are French (61%), German (52%) and Spanish (40%), followed by Polish (29%) and Mandarin (23%).
The CBI / EDI Education & Skills survey of 566 employers was conducted in February 2011. The survey, 'Building for growth: Business priorities for education and skills' is available as a PDF file from the CBI website:
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