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UK – School and college leavers lack basic skills, putting growth at risk

11 June 2012

The UK needs more high-level skills to compete for growth as the number of employers who are dissatisfied with school and college leavers’ basic skills remains at around a third, with 42% of employers also reporting that they have had to provide remedial training to them.

This is according to the latest Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Pearson Education & Skills survey of 542 organisations, which found that 61% of firms say school and college leavers have not developed the self-management skills they need for work while at school.

“The UK’s growth will depend on developing a wider and deeper pool of skills so that our economy can prosper in the face of fierce international competition for business,” John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said.

“There is nothing more important to the future economic success of our country, and the lives of young people, than education. But levels of educational attainment are rising fast in many leading and emerging economies, so in the UK we must ensure that our education and skills system can continue to compete at the cutting edge.”

In the face of challenging economic conditions, the vast majority of employers (81%) plan to maintain or increase their spending on training over the coming year, but there are major differences between sectors. A balance of +17% of manufacturers say they are planning to increase spending, while -36% of public sector employers plan reductions. Two thirds of employers (67%) report that they intend to seek more cost effective ways of delivering training in the next year.

The survey suggests that businesses need strong STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) skills when recruiting staff.  People with these skills are recruited at every level from apprenticeship entry (43%), technicians (40%) and graduates (53%) although 42% of firms struggle to find the right candidates.

Languages are also a big plus, but the UK has the worst language proficiency in Europe, according to the Education & Employer Taskforce. 72% of businesses say they value foreign language skills, most importantly for building relations with overseas contacts (39%). The major European languages continue to be the most in demand, such as German (50%), French (49%) and Spanish (29%). But language skills geared towards doing business in China (25%) and the Middle East (19%) also top the list.

“Rebalancing our economy will mean tapping into high-growth markets in places like Asia and Latin America, so companies will need people with the relevant language skills to do business in these countries,” Mr Cridland said.

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