Small businesses lament lack of basic skills in young staff

Ben Southwood
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SMALL BUSINESSES are sceptical about how ready school leavers are for work, according to a survey released by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) yesterday.

A full eight out of ten did not think school leavers were fit for employment, and that more must be done to get them into shape.

Fifteen and 16 year olds will receive their GCSE results today, but 59 per cent of respondents who employ workers just above this age range believe they are lacking in literacy skills. A further 55 per cent question their numeracy skills, while a slightly larger majority call young workers’ communication skills into question.

The lobby group said that firms were willing to build employees’ skills, but could only tackle youth employment if potential workers came equipped with the most rudimentary skills.

“Businesses are more than ready to invest time and money training staff in job-related skills, but expect them to come with at least the basics,” said FSB chairman John Walker.

“All schools should be offering work experience to their pupils and engaging with local small businesses to ensure that young people are getting the work-related learning that they need,” he claimed.

Michael Gove’s educational reform, which aims to do away with competing exam boards and implement a two-tier examination system, has been suggested as a way to improve proficiency in fundamental skills.

At least some of these policies may help achieve the stated aims, according to a separate report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), an independent think-tank.

Competition between exam boards, combined with uniform league tables, is alleged to contribute to grade inflation, as schools choose boards that offer easier exams. The IFS says that while the theoretical case for this tendency is clear, it is hard to empirically quantify.

The IFS has, however, studied the effect of the transition to “GCSE-equivalent qualifications”. It found that movement up the league tables is closely linked to a focus on these subjects.