Learning to grow: what employers need from education and skills

The CBI has recently published its Education and skills survey for 2012 entitled
Learning to grow: what employers need from education and skills.

As you might expect from a body as competent as the Confederation of British Industry in partnership with Pearson, it is full of fascinating statistics presented with startling clarity. There is good news and not-so-good news.  And in places, some really bad news.

It is now absolutely clear that it’s the employability of graduates which is important – not just the degree.  This is brilliant news because it is fixable and doesn’t point to a fundamentally flawed system.  Certainly it indicates a shortcoming in the current arrangement of academic qualifications at secondary schools, leading to university places without any real-world experience, but this can be addressed.

The comforting news is that Employability skills are far and away the most important factor considered when recruiting graduates, ahead of Degree subject and Relevant work experience/ industrial placement (81% versus 70% and 68% respectively).  This is comforting because we’ve believed it for a long time; we’ve felt it and we’ve heard it said.  Now we have the hard facts – evidence from what employers are saying.

For the purposes of clarity here, the CBI definition of Employability skills is summarised as a positive attitude, underpinning:
  • Self-management
  • Teamworking
  • Business and customer awareness
  • Problem solving
  • Communication and literacy
  • Application of numeracy
  • Application of information technology

Employer satisfaction with school/ college leavers’ employability skills is catastrophically low.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the use of IT scores highest, but with just 12% very satisfied. None of the other factors is rated higher than 5%.
In the case of graduates, the figures are better, but hardly encouraging.  Again, the use of IT scores highest with 26% very satisfied, with none of the other factors rated higher than 16%.

There are some clear actions resulting from this, and the report recommends greater emphasis on employability skills at secondary schools.

Employers believe much of the damage is caused by neglect or failings further upstream, and suggest that numeracy should be a priority for primary education.  Given what we’ve come to believe about our current education system, this is probably not a surprise.

The report contains some seriously bad news too:
“There is, however, some research suggesting the number of adults with poor numeracy has increased over the past eight years and that one in two adults now has numeracy skills roughly equivalent only to those expected of children at primary school, meaning for example that they may not be able to understand pay and deductions on a wages slip.”   [Reference: 17 million adults have poor numeracy skills, National Numeracy, February 2012].

Hard to believe – one in two adults!  This didn’t happen overnight – it is the result of a long decline in standards, combined with changing beliefs and experimental methods.  In any case, recovery from here is going to be a long haul, and take a huge investment coordinated across multiple stakeholders.  This is not going to be easily fixed.

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