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“Education system is letting us down”, say management leaders


The vast majority of Britain's recruitment professionals believe failures in the education system are contributing to a "skills crisis" in this country, according to a survey published last week.

Seventy nine per cent of human resource managers interviewed in a research project by the Institute of Management (IM) blamed the skills shortage on the system, and 70 per cent thought current education standards in the UK were a threat to our economic competitiveness.

The overwhelming message is that the education system is not meeting the demands of Britain's economy - and that the situation is getting worse. In November, 1998, a similar IM survey - then sponsored by Manpower - found that 38 per cent of organisations were experiencing a skills crisis. In the latest research, that figure has jumped to 63 per cent.

As students begin their new term at universities this week, 67 per cent of the human resource managers who responded to the IM questionnaire said they had not noticed a marked improvement in the quality of new graduate candidates since the expansion of higher education in recent years. Forty per cent said "more has meant worse".

However, they do live in hope. Sixty-five per cent said they believed the expansion of the higher education system would benefit the organisations they worked for in the long term.

Significantly, more than half of those who took part in the survey work for larger undertakings employing in excess of 1,000 people. Furthermore, 58 per cent of them had been involved in interviewing young graduates for jobs in the past 12 months, and 53 per cent in interviewing school leavers.

Nearly half (49 per cent) of the respondents believed the preparedness of graduates for the world of work has decreased in recent years. And 59 per cent believed the higher education system is failing to listen to employers properly. Additionally, 53 per cent did not think higher education is responding to employers' demands for high quality and relevant vocational courses.

Only 27 per cent thought aptitude tests should be introduced for students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds to bypass 'A' levels and therefore increase entry rates into top universities.

The value employers place upon the basic skills of literacy and numeracy is once again reinforced by the findings of this survey. Ninety per cent considered them important or very important. And 93 per considered important or very important the so-called "soft skills" of teamworking and interpersonal skills - essential requirements of a service-orientated economy. They also placed a high premium - 95 per cent - on communication skills and problem-solving and analytical thinking.

And while the managers were impressed by graduates' IT skills - 72 per cent regarding them as very good - only 30 per cent thought the same of their grasp of literacy and numeracy. Thirty seven per cent thought their communication skills were poor, and 47 per cent had a low opinion of their teamworking/interpersonal skills.

And the managers had some straight-talking advice for the Government. Sixty-five per cent said the education system should concentrate solely on enhancing standards of numeracy and literacy at primary and secondary school level.

Forty-nine per cent said that concern about GCSE "grade inflation"was justified, with only 22 per cent disagreeing. And 47 per cent thought the 'A' level "Gold Standard" was under threat - with again only 22 per cent dissenting.

Mary Chapman, the Director General of the Institute of Management, said: "The findings of this survey underline much of the concern being voiced in recent times about the skills shortage and the perceived shortcomings of the education system.

"One of the most worrying discoveries is the extent to which human resource managers believe that current education standards in this country are threatening our economic competitiveness.

"We recognise the importance being placed by the Government on improving educational standards, but the managers most concerned with employing young people have yet to witness positive results."


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