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Almost 60% of employers believe their sector is facing a skills shortage and one third are considering looking abroad to bolster their workforce, according to new research published today by City & Guilds. The findings, released at the start of Work Experience Week, show that employers find young people in Britain are leaving education without the right skills for the world of work.

Half of the 1000 employers surveyed believe that the current education system is not meeting the needs of business. In addition, more than 60% think that young people’s employment expectations are too high, or that young people do not understand what employers are looking for. As a result, over half of employers want more involvement developing qualifications to strengthen the link between education and business.

And when it comes to skills, strong core skills such as numeracy, literacy and communication are more valued in a potential candidate than academic qualifications. In fact, the majority of employers (55%) say they would hire someone without a degree.

Commenting on the report Chris Jones, CEO and Director General of City & Guilds said, ‘This research has huge implications for the Government’s attempts to curb youth unemployment, which still lags at around one million. But the issue is not simply a lack of job opportunities. There is a more fundamental problem with the qualifications, core skills and lack of understanding of the workplace that is preventing young people from successfully finding employment.

‘A step change is needed in the education system to move away from a pure focus on academia towards a curriculum that meets the needs of employers.’

The need for experience

Work experience in particular is seen as integral for young people entering the workplace. Almost 80% of employers think work experience is essential to ensuring young people are ready for work while two thirds of employers (67%) would be more likely to hire a young person with work experience over someone with none. In fact, 50% of employers have given a full-time job to someone they’ve taken on for work experience and 71% think that structured work experience should be mandatory for all 16-18 year olds.

However, despite the findings, over 40% of businesses still do not currently work with local schools or colleges to attract new talent. Likewise, 60% of employers remain uncertain on how to deliver the most effective work experience placements and would welcome guidelines and support.

Adding to the debate, Tony Moloney, Head of UK Education & Skills at National Grid, said: ‘It comes as no surprise to me that this research reveals such high skills shortages among engineering employers or that work experience is viewed as so crucial by employers. Three years ago we embarked on a programme, Engineering our Future, which aims to educate and inspire young people about the opportunities available in the engineering sector. Work experience is central to this programme and it has delivered fantastic results for National Grid. I strongly believe that there needs to be collaboration between employers, politicians and the education community to help prepare young people for the world of work.’

The research was released ahead of the City & Guilds TechBac®, which is launching in September 2014. The new TechBac® programme of study, which will have structured work experience as a key part of the overall study programme.