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CBI Firms Question Quality of Apprenticeships Talent Pool

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RSS 13 July 2015
Industry sectors crucial to the UK economy's growth will face a damaging shortfall in skills based on the latest CBI/Pearson Education report. Businesses are concerned that Apprenticeships aren't up to scratch. But of more concern to those surveyed is the state of British education from a grass roots level.

Surveys are great. When they're without an agenda. Who's going to fund research if the answers won't support their product or agenda?

Just think of the "Food Pyramid", the result of a survey into eating habits, which the US Government commissioned in the mid-20th century. When you understand that the food industry lobbied for then later funded that research, alarm bells ring.

Conspiracy theory? America hasn't got an obesity problem, has it? Enough said.

Reading the CBI/Pearson report, or a snapshot of the results thereof, those alarm bells began a-jangling. One would love to give the benefit of the "chicken and egg" doubt:

  • was the current shortfall in skilled labour rife across the UK the catalyst for the survey?
  • or did the CBI hand pick the 310 businesses as they were likely to endorse and highlight their 'First Steps' reform model?
  • maybe even a bit of both.

The language that both Katja Hall (CBI) and Rod Bristow (Pearson) use in their reflection of the results sounds rehearsed. It's those "told-you-so" comments, which match the results with such precision, that stoked this commentator's subconscious.

But, let's be kind. If the 300+ respondees, who employ over 1,000,000 workers between them, are representative of the UK's 'core' sectors? Then, yes; there's merit in CBI/Pearson's recommendations. And, yes, the UK has a problem. For our audience, freelancers and contractors, it smacks of opportunity. That's if Mr Osborne, et al, don't petrify the flexibility that independent professionals bring to UK business.

Here is a brief summary of those responses, but do have that pinch of salt (c/w a tequila) to hand:

CBI-flavoured results…

From the CBI's standpoint, it's not the amount of apprenticeships that companies are creating causing their chagrin. It's the quality of those programmes and their mismatch with business needs that's at fault.

In their survey, CBI found that 68% of businesses project an increase in demand for people with higher skills. More than half of those respondents fear that the feeder pool is shallow on stock.

They're right to show such concern. The government's well on the way to attaining its target of 3 million apprenticeships. But is it foregoing quality over quantity? In 2013/14, only 2% of all apprenticeships were at the skill level businesses project they'll need.

The negative impact on economic growth could well grow off the scale. 74% of industries in the engineering and evolving science industries forecast the need for skills at higher-education level. Manufacturing has a 69% requirement and 73% of construction firms are also looking for developed skill sets.

Conclusion? Businesses want and need urgent reforms in education during and post school to get anywhere near those figures.

…and from the Pearson Education menu

That's where the Pearson influence takes over, in some respects. Reflecting on the budget the government has set aside for apprenticeships, they commend that action. But it's the build up to those school-leaver schemes worrying Pearson.

Further Ed is the key springboard to moving young workers from school to higher-level apprenticeships. Collegiate and equivalent education is, according to Pearson, "on the edge of a funding precipice".

Higher level schemes employers offer cannot work without a well-stocked talent pool leaving further education. But it's not only post compulsory education that has businesses worried.

45% of those polled, recognising the global market, want greater investment in foreign (in particular, European) languages. Three quarters also cited career advice as unsatisfactory; that's both in schools and later on in colleges.

But the most worrying aspect - and where the government's flagship may well sink - is how many businesses find the need to teach their apprentices even the educational basics.

Now's the time to grab that tequila.

Firms in the survey reported that they need to teach English language (and the use thereof) to 37% of school leavers. They had to teach a similar percentage in basic numeracy. 49% of school leavers lacked basic communication skills.

And the icing on the cake? Three in ten firms have had to send apprentices for remedial education on the core components of the school curriculum. REMEDIAL!

Could it be that attitudes in compulsory education are all wrong?

It's not only the actual competence of school leavers that businesses are complaining about. The attitude towards work of 39% of school leavers is in question. Self-management and resilience of them was also a problem for 61% of firms.

If those figures are representative of industry across the country, there is a void that needs plugging, tout suite. Firms may well be assessing character and attitude (85%) as more important than academic achievement (31%) and actual qualifications (39%) when deciding which school leavers to take on. But competence must play a part.

All of these elements combined pose a real question about the state of our education. Is it right that the government should concentrate on apprentices when the results firms poll about school leavers are so negative? Are employment figures more important than businesses competing in the global market?

It's a bit like putting the horse before the cart. Bad enough. But even worse if the horse's owner has dressed it in blinkers…

Image: The Right Candidates | jscreationz | freedigitalphotos.net

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