By Sarah Hathaway, Head of ACCA UK (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)

UK businesses are looking much more closely at what specific skills they need from employees, and aren’t necessarily finding it among the current employment pool.

The business community is currently crying out for more work-relevant educated staff. Leading individuals from the business community have spoken out to highlight the stubborn shortage of skills in the UK which are needed to remain competitive and fuel long-term growth.

Speaking at the recent Business Class Symposium, McDonald's Europe chief people officer David Fairhurst called for a closer working relationship between schools and business. Similarly, Director General of the CBI, John Cridland has previously stated “We’re facing a critical lack of skills in some key industries, just as the economy starts to pick up. Long-term, sustainable growth will come in part from rebalancing towards high-value products and services, which demand much better technical skills.” From the basics like numeracy to the soft skills like time keeping and collaboration, business is seeing gaps where there should not be any.

Some of this comes down to the information young people receive about education and training. Research conducted by ACCA revealed that only one in five students (22%) had received information about alternatives to university from their school or careers advice service. Both parents and schools have a huge influence in guiding students towards a suitable career path and a continued ‘university first’ mentality may stem from the lack of information about the alternative options available. So much more must be done to challenge the mind-set of UK parents and schools who are holding on to an out dated belief that university is the only way to a professional career.

University can be seen as a rite of passage but there are alternative qualifications and much less expensive ways to access a professional career. The government, schools and parents have a shared responsibility to ensure that all avenues are explored and that children are not pushed in a direction which may not be right for them. There is a role for businesses and professional bodies to work with schools and their careers advisers in changing that mind-set.

Other training and qualifications - such as apprenticeships and post-school work programmes - need to genuinely reflect the needs of employers. Combining study with employment has the added benefit of gaining work-relevant skills as you learn, rather than waiting to develop those vocational attributes until after university. The Government has recognised this to some extent and is seeking more input from businesses under a series of initiatives launched at the end of 2013 that put employers in the driving seat and will help create standards to further strengthen the apprenticeship route.

Businesses should look to connect with both the government and learning providers, including universities, to ensure that they are fully aware of the skills that businesses require. We all need to work together to develop a curriculum, framework or programme which meets these needs.

In addition businesses should be open minded as to who they employ. Selecting candidates from a mix of backgrounds with a variety of qualifications including those with international experience, will help ensure that the workforce has the required range of skills across the board. All this adds up to a talented work force ready to face the economic challenges and opportunities ahead.

ACCA is in constant contact with employers from all sectors and of all sizes as to what it is they need from the next generation of finance professionals. ACCA has used these insights to create a framework which addresses all the key competencies required by finance professionals, from performance and financial management and taxation, to the specialist areas such as Islamic Finance and the principles of Integrated Reporting. This competency framework has been developed to ensure that aspiring finance professionals, employers and tuition providers are clear about the key skills demanded in an increasingly globalised and rapidly changing business environment.