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Basic skills lacking among school leavers, says business

Businesses are struggling to recruit young employees with sufficient basic skills, two business groups have claimed.

Following an Ofsted report which identified “disappointing” results in the ‘functional skills’ courses that form part of the trial of the government’s new diplomas, the Forum of Private Business (FPB) has voiced worries that the education system is not adequately preparing young people for the world of work.

Phil Orford, the chief executive of the FPB, urged more small firms to set up apprenticeships, internship schemes and work experience programmes in order to benefit from the drive and creativity of young people and, in turn, help young recruits learn what employers need from their staff.

Mr Orford said: “Our members value young people who can bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm to the workplace. It is important that young people leave school, college or university with the skills and confidence they need to enter their first job and do well.”

He added: “We regularly take on work experience students, interns, and recent school-leavers and graduates. They have always proven to be a great asset to the organisation and, in return, have left us with a good taste of what doing business is all about.”

The FPB is supporting the government’s ‘Backing Young Britain’ scheme, an initiative that is pledging £1 billion for employers in order to create 50,000 new jobs for 18-to-24-year-olds by October 2009.

However, the FPB said that a significant proportion of businesses experienced difficulties in finding young people with the skills needed to make it in the commercial world.

A study of employers carried out by the FPB in 2008 revealed that almost one in five respondents (18 per cent) believed the basic skills of the UK’s labour market to be ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’, while 68 per cent described them as just ‘average’.

Small business employers, according to the survey, valued literacy, numeracy, English language communication and basic ICT skills.

“There is a clear gap between what businesses need and what businesses get when it comes to the ability of the education system to produce viable employees for small businesses,” commented Mr Orford. “The results of the FPB’s research prove that our members have issues when it comes to finding employees with basic attributes such as communication, numeracy and literacy, as well as more developed and specific skills that are required by individual businesses.”

It was a view echoed by Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce.

Dr Marshall argued that too much attention is focused on the annual ritual of exam results and too little on whether young people are getting the skills they need to succeed.

He said: “In a tough economic climate, it’s more important than ever that Britain’s education and training systems work for learners and for businesses alike.

“Companies up and down the country tell us that too many young people are still leaving school, college or university without the tools needed to get into work. So rather than focus on exam pass rates, councils, colleges and local businesses need to form a closer partnership – ensuring that employers can recruit locally, and that young people get the training they need to get ahead.”