Fit for Work

The availability of key skills is a major concern for CEOs according to the PWC Annual Global CEO Survey. We frequently hear criticism of the UK education system, in 2016 the accountancy body CIMA found that their members thought 80% of young people require 'significant training' before being put to work.

The top areas of weakness for new recruits are people skills, business skills and technical skills. That pretty much covers all the bases!

The British Chambers of Commerce bear out this point of view and suggest that stronger links should be formed between educators (schools, colleges and universities) and business to better prepare young people for work. The BCC says successive governments have failed our young people by not properly equipping them for their future careers: “Creating artificial targets, such as half of school leavers should go to university, has in the past sent the wrong signal to young people about the employment and training options open to them. Young people should be able to fulfil their potential in their own talent pool”.

The disconnect between our education system and the world of work has been a problem in the UK for many years now. The new apprenticeship schemes, funded by the levy, may herald serious attempts to address skills shortages in a number of sectors.

Skills Shortages

The availability of skills is a serious concern for UK businesses. We are at almost full employment and for those CEOs planning to hire more people in the near future, competition for talent will be intense. The CIPD reports a rise in the number of employers who are expecting to increase staff levels in Q3 of 2017, a trend that is especially pronounced amongst private sector service firms.

The CIPD highlight labour shortages in sectors such as accommodation and food services, and construction. In addition, it seems that recruitment difficulties for high-skilled roles are prevalent in the retail and financial services sectors.

According to new research by the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils across England and Wales, failure to address the lack of skills in the UK workforce could cost the country £90bn a year, leaving workers £1,176 a year worse off on average. The LGA estimates that by 2024 there will be more than 4 million too few high skilled people to meet demand for high skilled jobs; and more than 6 million too many low skilled. A total of 9 million people already lack literacy and numeracy skills, according to the report.

Despite the sterling efforts of the teaching profession in recent years, a study from Sheffield University found that a shocking 17% of teenagers are leaving school functionally illiterate and unable to cope with the challenges of everyday life. Greg Brookes, professor of education at Sheffield and one of the study's authors, said these school-leavers lacked the skills to deal confidently with many of the mathematical challenges of contemporary life and had a lower standard of literacy than is needed to partake fully in employment, family life, and the labour market.

The skills shortage has been under the spotlight recently as business braces itself for the challenges of Brexit and the likely impact on recruitment. The government has suggested that British business should be training more workers to fill the roles currently undertaken by EU immigrants. If that were to work business needs a reasonable level of competence to work with but John Allan, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, says that “firms have a responsibility to train staff to meet the needs of their specific business, but there is a clear case for the education system to get better at preparing young people for life beyond the classroom”.


Understanding Training Choices

Given the sad state of the government funded careers service and the paucity of careers provision in most state schools the supply of skills to UK PLC is not well managed. It is very important that young people are supported in understanding the training choices available to them and the impact that these choices have on their future. Sadly, a recent UK Commission for Employment and Skills report found that “the career aspirations of teenagers at all ages can be said to have nothing in common with the projected demand for labour in the UK between 2010 and 2020”.

Universities make a much better effort at careers advice, it is in their interest to do so, as their rankings depend on the employment status of their graduates. It’s an old argument, and something of red herring, to suggest graduates aren’t trained for the workplace and the rise of the degree level apprenticeship addresses that issue and suits many teenagers who prefer a vocational course.

It’s hard to square the circle, since the CBI suggests that employers see academic and vocational qualifications as having equal stature. Employers want to see skills such as team working, customer relations, negotiation, confidence, and think problem solving and communication skills are crucial. It’s hard to think of a job or profession where good communication isn’t essential. However, changes in the education system have resulted in a diminished focus on teaching anything other than a rigid core curriculum, thereby disadvantaging young people who need support to develop the employability skills sought by employers.

What’s required is a shared understanding of the importance of employability skills within the education and employment sectors so that the Department of Education can ensure more young people enter the workforce well prepared. The coalition government ended the statutory duty on schools in England to provide every pupil at Key Stage 4 with work-related learning, which means they miss out on placements that give a vitally important taste of workplace life.

There is clearly a role for business in smoothing the path into the workplace for youngsters and ensuring we proactively build a pipeline of young talent who will become the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs. Business needs to make the investment and commitment to training for new recruits. This is, in part, about the employment brand, the organisation needs to offer a work experience that all employees value, it raises the profile of the business within the local labour market and can be a powerful recruitment tool as people will recommend good firms to work for.

To be fair, this lack of preparation for the workplace, is not a problem for the UK alone, as nearly a third of the world’s human capital is under-developed, according to the World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Report 2017, released on 13 September. The sad fact is that while our graduates find jobs many are under-employed in roles that don’t reflect their expensive education or their aspirations.

Career Directed Solutions sees and encourages the advantages of Individual Career Management at the initial stage of an employee’s appointment to your business, if you would like to see how we could help you please call us on 0333 240 8115 or email

Posted: Thursday 1 February 2018

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