Poor standards of English and Maths could hinder growth


Poor standards of English and Maths among school leavers could hinder growth, according to a new CBI / EDI annual Education & Skills survey.

The CBI /EDI survey of 566 employers shows 42% 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. To address the weaknesses in basic skills, almost half (44%) of employers have had to invest in remedial training for school and college leavers.

The survey shows that young people are not in a position to make informed choices about their future career because of inadequate advice in schools and colleges. Only 6% of businesses are confident that advice is good enough, while 64% think advice must improve. There is an appetite among employers to play a greater role in delivering careers advice, with 54% willing to do more, rising to 66% of large firms.

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, 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.

 “Students need better careers advice early on, so they can make informed decisions about what subjects they choose, knowing what types of jobs they could lead to.

“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.”

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.

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.”

Shortages in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills are widespread with 43% of employers currently having difficulty recruiting staff in these areas, rising to 53% who 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%).

Mr Snook went on to say: “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.”

Susan Anderson, CBI Director for Education and Skills, said: “Maths is particularly important so that the UK can compete and grow in a range of key industries, but currently only 15% of students study this beyond GCSE, well behind competitor nations such as France and Germany.

“All young people should do work experience and we’re concerned that the Government removing the statutory duty on schools could lead to some students missing out on this vital way of developing employability skills.”

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