By Daniel Hunter

With millions of teenagers picking up their GCSE results today, the Institute of Directors (IoD) has called on the government to make sure that 'soft' business skills are at the heart of education.

A new survey of IoD members shows that employers value soft skills, such as communication, team-working and leadership just as much as academic and technical skills. But the IoD has concerns about how well the current schools system equips school leavers with the full range of skills and experience young people will need in the world of work.

Seven in ten businesses (68%) said that the communications skills of both school leavers and graduates needed to be improved. Nearly half (44%) raised concerns about the ability of school leavers and graduates to work to deadlines. And more than a third also said that the problem-solving (38%), resourcefulness (36%) and team-working skills (35%) of school leavers and graduates could be better.

In a sign of how much businesses value practical experience and a first-hand understanding of how businesses operate, half (49%) of all IoD members said they engage directly with schools and education institutions.

More than a third (37%) said they provide work experience
and 17% give employment talks at schools, colleges and universities. One in ten (9%) of IoD members are either a school governor themselves, or has a staff member who is a school governor. And only 1% of IoD members said they had found schools unwilling to engage with them.

Seamus Nevin, Head of Employment of Skills Policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “Well done to all those who received their GCSE results today. Overall these are positive results and students should be congratulated for their dedication and hard-work. GCSE exams are an important milestone in a young person’s education. There are, however, important questions that need to be answered about their future form.

“Exam results are important, but they are only one element of a broad and comprehensive education. We need to make sure that our schools equip young people for the needs of the modern economy. That means making sure they have the skills employers need: the ability to work in a team, solve problems, communicate effectively and show resilience and resourcefulness. These skills need to be built from an early age. It is too late to start teaching them at secondary school. They must be at the heart of the education system from beginning to end.

“The link between schools, young people and employers is vital. Schools want local businesses to engage with them, and there is a great appetite among business leaders to help influence the curriculum and provide training, placements and work experience opportunities for young people. We need to make sure the schools system acknowledges this and factors the needs of employers into what is taught in schools. The first step is to create an exam system which accounts for the vast array of skills our young people need to compete and succeed in the modern economy.”