By Claire West

Education secretary, Michael Gove’s announcement has provoked an interesting reaction from industry experts in the training and education sector suggesting that the gap between school leavers’ abilities and the needs of employers is becoming increasingly prominent. The government has signalled a return to traditional educational values as it sets out wide ranging plans for school reforms in the England. Gove said heads would get more powers over discipline and that teacher training would be shaken up. It is feared however, that Gove risks creating a "two-tier education system" where the requirements of academic pupils are put ahead of those wanting to pursu e more vocational courses which could increase their employability in an economy where the future is uncertain. The announcement has been met with a hostile reaction from experts in the training and education sector, provoking fear that this approach could potentially alienate non academic pupils from the workplace and have a detrimental impact upon the economy in general.

Recent statistics from the FSSC’s (Financial Services Skills Council) Skills Survey 2010 and in depth interviews with employers reported that the level of basic skills among applicants was average. These findings demonstrate that a large majority of employers in sectors such as financial advice and services found that skills levels of new recruits have dramatically worsened over the last five years.

Liz Field, CEO of The Financial Services Skills Council says, “In a post credit crisis era it is more important now than ever before for the new reforms to encourage a culture among our schools that promotes a closer working relationship between employers and schools so that the education system in this country can produce graduates and school leavers who are fit for work across a variety of industries. Not only will this encourage a system that tackles the growing issue of graduate unemployment but it will also provide a welcome injection of fresh talent which this economy could really benefit from right now”.

Field adds, “It is critical that schools work more closely with business leaders in order to produce quality pupils with the necessary skills for employment. In order for Britain to compete more effectively and become more competitive in the global marketplace it is mission critical for business and industry leaders to have a new generation of talent that are in tune with the needs of employers as the economic axis of the West starts to move to the Bricks economies.” Qualitative research with employers has found that the desired skills expected from graduates of all levels include commercial awareness, communication skills, presentation skills, quantitative skills in risk management roles and interpersonal skills.

#So far, research has shown that the schooling system has not been producing graduates with the necessary skills to be accepted into employment. A large majority of employe rs rated new skills levels to be at the same level as in 2005 while 15 per cent reported that skills levels have declined, according to the Skills Survey from the FSSC this year.

There are growing concerns among business leaders about the quality of graduates and school leaders and their ability to cope in a working environment. A recent CBI (Confederation of British Industry) survey found that 70% of employers think action is required to improve the employability of school leavers who otherwise will be set to keep “falling through the cracks.” Figures published (by The Guardian) showed that since the recession began, unemployment among under-25s has risen from 700,000 in February 2008, to 928,000 in June 2009, peaking in September before receding just shy of 1,000,000 in the First financial quarter 2010. The jobless rate for those aged 16 to 24 who are actively seeking work is now nearly one in five — 19.1% and worryingly, the adult unemployment rate has risen from 3.6% to 7.8%. The situation amo ng 16 and 17-year-olds who left school in the last year is acute, with 31.7% of those looking for work now officially unemployed. This set of figures also reveals an alarming 75% rise in the number of 18 to 24-year-olds who are being paid jobseeker’s allowance.

The answer, says Field, lies in quality training and a conscious improved effort on the part of the government to bridge the gap between employers and school heads, “Our country is never going to come out of recessionary conditions if we cannot unlock the hidden talent within the gifted young people in this country. Our students and school leavers are being wasted under the current system which should operate by gearing graduates and school leavers towards the workplace which now places greater pressure on the private sector than ever before to prop up the UK economy.”