Third of UK firms say workers lack basic skills

A third of businesses say that their workforce is lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills, a survey has found.

A poll of British businesses by PwC has found that a majority felt the education system was not preparing young people for the world of work.

Fifty per cent said that their organization would be more productive if the education system were better tailored to future employment. Eighty-nine per cent said it was important for young people to be assessed on more than academic skills.

In January the commission estimated that reforming education would boost the UK economy by £ 125 billion.

Better preparing young people for the world of work, such as helping students to develop better time management, teamworking skills and resilience, could increase productivity and help youths find jobs and career opportunities, the study concluded.

Research from PwC has found that a significant number of businesses are experiencing shortages of basic skills.

Thirty five per cent said they were experiencing a shortage of core competencies in reading, writing and numeracy. Similar numbers are expected to see literacy shortages in the next year.

Thirty nine per cent also felt they were short on personal skills such as time management and problem solving. Thirty-three per cent felt they were struggling to find employees with strong skills in leadership, networking and communication. Forty per cent feared they would struggle to find people with creativity and entrepreneurship in the next year.

Kevin Ellis, chairman and senior partner at PwC UK who is speaking at the commission’s summit in London today, said: “Basic numeracy and literacy should be a given. We also need other skills that stand the test of time, such as empathy, resilience and agility. You can not predict all the jobs that will exist in the future but you can predict the mindset needed to adapt and be ready. ”

Last year Dame Sharon White, chairwoman of the John Lewis Partnership, told the commission that it was having to teach basic literacy and numeracy to teenage employees. Many had been “basically completely failed” by the education system, she said, and some would have done ten to 12 years of education but lacked functional literacy.

Even if they developed “fabulous people skills”, that was something often acquired outside of education, she said.

Eighty nine per cent of employers said it was important for assessments to take into account abilities beyond academic performance. While the majority of businesses said that the exams system was useful for teaching young people to work under pressure, 19 per cent said that it was not helping students to develop teamwork and collaborative skills. As a result, 74 per cent of employers use their own assessment techniques as well as considering an applicant’s academic history. Seventeen per cent use only their own methods and discount candidates’ academic qualifications entirely.

Ellis said: “Exams have their place but they can be unduly influenced by someone’s background and the opportunities given to them. They’re not the best measure of potential. Employers will miss out on talent if they measure it through one lens alone. ”

Of those who do not consider qualifications, 38 per cent said this helped them to hire staff from a more diverse range of backgrounds than relying on traditional markers of performance.

Sir James Dyson and Sir Richard Branson are among those lobbying for significant changes to the education system to improve Britain’s economic fortunes.

Dyson told the commission: “Children are creative, they love building and making things. . . but as they get closer to GCSEs and A-levels all that is squashed out of them. It’s all about rote-learning, not about using your imagination. The system does not measure creativity, it measures what you can remember of other people’s facts. ”

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