The latest CBI/Pearson Education & Skills survey reveals that some 42% of employers have had to provide remedial training for school and college-leavers – with an even higher proportion (61%) believing that this cohort has failed to develop the self-management skills needed for the workplace.
According to the CBI, “the persistence of this finding suggests that there are structural issues within our schools that need to be addressed.” (Indeed, it has recently launched a major project of its own to do so.)
The survey reflects the views of over 540 organisations together employing some 1.6m people. It suggests that, in addition to failing to develop skills such as self-management and time-keeping, too many school-leavers still struggle with writing to an acceptable standard, basic numeracy and the use of computers. The net result is that the overall level of dissatisfaction among employers with school and college-leavers’ literacy and numeracy skills (around a third) remains broadly the same as a decade ago.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey also suggests that no single qualification addresses the employers’ desired combination of literacy, numeracy and employability requirements effectively. GCSE maths was seen to be the best qualification for numeracy, while vocational qualifications were regarded as better at equipping young people with broader employability skills.
However employers do recognise that they also have an important role to play in helping students to understand the skills they need for working life. A balance of 32% of employers have increased their engagement with schools over the past year. This means that 57% now have links with secondary schools and 56% with FE colleges (but only 20% with primary schools).
In the area of careers advice, two-thirds (68%) of employers consider that the general standard of advice simply isn’t good enough, while more than 60% would like to play a greater role in providing it.
Encouragingly, just over two-thirds (70%) of employers now provide some form of work experience for students, although roughly a quarter (26%) felt there was insufficient guidance and support on how to make placements worthwhile while a similar proportion (22%) were concerned about “onerous” health and safety requirements. Two-thirds (67%) of employers also plan to find more cost-effective ways of delivering training over the coming year.
Significantly, the survey also identified growing employer interest in the concept of ‘learn while you earn’. Around 20% of jobs were seen to require graduate-level skills (a figure rising to 70% in the professional services sector). But almost two-thirds (63%) of employers are anticipating that the big rise in university tuition fees will have an impact on this market, with almost a third (30%) foreseeing a decline in future applications from graduates. As a result, more than a third (38%) expect to expend their intake of school-leavers and/or apprentices with A-levels as an alternative to graduate-level entry. (Among employers with over 5,000 staff, this figure rises to 68%).