Key business skills overlooked by UK’s education system

Survey reveals that 70% of senior managers in the UK have difficulty finding good quality candidates for entry-level jobs

Key business skills overlooked by UK’s education system

The issue of youth unemployment has been somewhat of a bugbear for consecutive British governments since the turn of the millennium. In fact, it always seems to simmer under the surface of every country that outwardly portrays itself as an economic powerhouse on the global stage. Nevertheless, the blame for such a situation is often laid at the feet of various government departments – and sometimes, it is the UK’s employers who are left feeling the wrath of the country’s disillusioned adolescents.

Well, according to a new survey from national business and enterprise charity Young Enterprise, the majority of problems lie within the very core of the UK’s education system. Commissioned by Young Enterprise in partnership with The Citi Foundation, part of global financial services provider Citi, the survey reveals that 70% of senior managers in Britain believe it to be ‘difficult’ (48%) or ‘very difficult’ (22%) to find good quality applicants for entry-level jobs. Whilst the situation may be not be as dire as it is in Germany – where 75% of employers feel disgruntled – it is significantly worse than in France and Spain where the figures stand at 52% and 56% respectively.

Yet, it would appear that German business leaders are more optimistic about the youth unemployment situation improving over the course of the next three years. Only 22% of Germans are ‘very pessimistic’ or ‘pessimistic’ about the prospects of youth unemployment decreasing, compared to third of respondents (37%) in the UK, 43% in France and 42% in Spain. And from a UK perspective, just over a quarter of managers (26%) are optimistic about a fall in youth unemployment before 2016.

So what exactly defines a ‘good quality candidate’ when it comes to entry-level positions in this country? According to respondents, the five key skills that young British people lack when entering the workforce are: self-management (50%), communication and literacy (44%), people skills (35%), positive attitude (35%) and confidence (35%). Unsurprisingly, these were generally corroborated by the answers to a further question, which asked employers what they believed are the five key skills young people should have when entering the workforce. Communication and literacy came out on top at 59%, followed by a positive attitude (56%), self-management (48%), people skills (45%) and team working (41%).

Indeed, it could be a sign of the times that academic qualifications no longer seem to have much bearing on an employer’s recruitment decisions, with 10% of the managers surveyed across all countries ranking them as the most important consideration when hiring a first-time worker. And at a lowly 8%, academic qualifications were actually bottom of the list for managers in the UK and Germany. Of course, a survey of 412 senior managers by an organisation dedicated to youth enterprise could raise eyebrows in some quarters, but that shouldn’t make it any less telling that 92% of respondents in all of the countries polled said it was important to offer enterprise education, alongside regular subjects, as part of the national curriculum.  

“This survey is a wakeup call to Europe and particularly Britain that we are letting down our young people,” said Michael Mercieca, chief executive of Young Enterprise. “It reveals the education systems of our countries are not giving them the right skills to enter the world of work.  Too many young recruits lack crucial ‘soft’ employability skills when they present themselves for interview.”

Certainly, with bodies like Young Enterprise banging the drum for the business potential of our youngsters, it is probably high time the powers that be gave our schools the fine tuning they need to make the most of that start-up spirit. 

Adam Pescod
Adam Pescod

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