Employers' fears over lack of skilled workers

Half of employers fear they will not be able to fill jobs with suitably qualified candidates as demand for highly skilled staff increases, according to a report out today.

A survey of almost 700 employers for the CBI found that a third believed the need for lower level skills will fall, while almost half said they were already having problems recruiting workers with skills in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Employers questioned said A level subjects such as business studies, maths, English, physics or chemistry would be best for boosting a young person's job prospects. Subjects least rated in terms of employability included psychology and sociology, while the importance of studying science to degree level was stressed again by firms.

Studying science, technology, engineering and maths opened doors to a range of job opportunities, said the CBI, which urged the government to encourage take-up of the subjects.

Most of the firms polled said they planned to maintain or increase spending on training and development despite the "fragile" recovery from recession, but they still voiced concern about the basic skills of their workers.

Half of employers said they were troubled by the basic literacy and numeracy skills of their staff, while two thirds raised problems about computer skills. In the past year a fifth of employers had arranged remedial training for young people they had recruited from school or college in subjects such as literacy, numeracy and information technology.

Nigel Snook, chief executive of awards body EDI, which helped compile the report, said: "This year's CBI/EDI education and skills survey highlights the importance of creating a clear strategy for vocational education and training which links the development of basic employment skills all the way through to the achievement of high level technical, professional and managerial qualifications.

"The transition from school, college or university to the world of work is still one of the most challenging stages in many people's lives. Despite the fact that employers and government invest considerable sums of money and effort in this area, the survey demonstrates there is still work to do to more effectively harness these resources.

"In particular, there is clear evidence that more practical, experience-based teaching programmes better suit the learning styles of many young people, especially those who are likely to continue their education and development through vocational opportunities.

"The findings also suggest that there would be real benefits from improving the guidance given to young people on the options available to them, and simplifying the contribution of employers to work experience and apprenticeship programmes."

Firms called for incentive payments for taking on and training apprentices, and said red tape surrounding apprenticeships needed to be cut.

Matthew Knowles, spokesman for the UK's aerospace, defence and security trade organisation ADS, which is a CBI member, said: "High-tech manufacturing and services sectors such as those that we represent have a large number of skilled people approaching retirement age.

"To avoid losing business overseas in what are highly-competitive global industries, in which the UK is number one in Europe and second only to the US globally, we need more high-calibre young people studying science, technology, engineering and maths. The future economic prosperity of the country depends on us securing a continuous flow of such well-qualified young people," he said.

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