Further progress on school and college leaver attainment requires radical new vision

Published on Monday, 11 June 2012 09:14
Posted by Scott Buckler

The number of employers who are dissatisfied with school and college leavers’ basic skills remains stuck at around a third – the same as a decade ago – with 42% reporting that they have had to provide remedial training for school and college leavers

The latest CBI / Pearson Education & Skills survey of 542 organisations, employing around 1.6 million people, reports that 61% of firms say school and college leavers have not developed the self-management skills they need for work while at school.

The persistence of this finding suggests that there are structural issues within our schools that need to be addressed if we are to ensure every young person gets a good start in life. The CBI has recently launched a major project designed to address this issue.

The survey also finds that as the UK competes ever more for business and talent in global markets, employers are looking to up-skill their workforces. Over the next three to five years, employers expect to need more people with leadership and management skills (a balance of +67%) and other higher skills (+61%), whereas for lower-skilled workers, they expect to slightly cut numbers (-3%).

While half of employers (a balance of +51%) are confident that they will fill their low-skilled vacancies, they are not confident of meeting their need for higher-skilled employees (-15%).

John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said:

“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.

“There is nothing more important to the future economic success of our country, and the lives of young people, than education.

“The foundations for the development of higher-level skills and the essentials for working life, that employers require, are laid at school.

“With the right start at school our young people can go on to have successful and fulfilling careers and have a strong base from which to learn more at college, university, or in the workplace.

“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.”

Rod Bristow, UK President of Pearson said:

The connection between education and the world of work is critically important. Employers and all of us working in education have a big task to address that connection properly. Despite improvements in the past decade, employers want to see an even sharper focus on literacy and numeracy, beginning at primary school. Literacy and numeracy are the basic building blocks that help young people learn other subjects, get on in life and find rewarding work.

“But it’s not just about literacy and numeracy. Even the best-performing nations say the number one issue in education is to better equip school leavers with the broader skills needed for working life, and we are no exception.  Employers still find that some young people lack the initiative, problem-solving and communication skills to succeed at work.

But this survey should fuel optimism that the best and brightest firms are continuing to invest in education, work with schools and colleges and maintain their own investment in training.

Importance of school performance underlined by more businesses building links with schools

Employers recognise that they have an important role to play helping students and schools understand what skills are needed for working life. More than a third have increased their engagement with schools in the past year (+39%), while just 7% have reduced it, giving a balance of +32%.

  •     57% have links with secondary schools
  •     56% with further education colleges
  •     But only 20% with primary schools


One of the most important roles which half of all employers already carry out is providing careers advice (51%), but it’s clear that more work needs to be done in this area, with 68% saying that the general quality of advice is still not good enough. More than 60% of respondents say they would like to play a greater role in delivering careers advice.

In other areas, more than two thirds of employers (70%) provide work experience to students and around a third of employees (29%) act as governors. The survey found that some of the barriers to stepping up business involvement include insufficient guidance and support on how to make work experience placements worthwhile (26%), and onerous health and safety requirements (22%).

When asked which areas of education they think primary schools should focus on, 61% of employers said numeracy, 58% writing, 45% reading, and 42% said communication skills. For secondary schools, employers say the main focus should be on developing broader skills for working life:

  •     Employability skills – 71%
  •     Literacy – 50%
  •     Numeracy - 45%


But, the survey finds that no one current qualification addresses the combination of literacy, numeracy and employability requirements effectively. While employers think that for numeracy, GCSE maths is the best qualification, they say that vocational qualifications best equip young people with the broader employability skills.

Big growth in employer interest in ‘learn-while-you-earn’ approach

One in five jobs (20%) requires graduate-level skills, particularly in professional services (70%). But most employers (63%) expect increases in tuition fees to change the market for graduate-level skills, with 30% expecting to receive fewer graduate applications in the future. As a result, more than a third of firms (38%) expect to expand their recruitment of school leavers and / or apprentices with A-levels to provide an alternative to graduate-level training. Among the largest employers, with more than 5,000 staff, this figure rises to 68%.

John Cridland said: “With extra pressure on student budgets from changes to tuition fees, more employers are stepping in to offer a range of innovative ‘learn while you earn’ routes to higher-level skills.”

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